Sunday, July 26, 2015

Jacques Pépin's Penne Au Gratin

Let's talk summer food. There's certainly something to be said for eating light when it's hot outside. You don't wanna eat macaroni and cheese and then throw on a bathing suit, nor do you wanna eat a roast and go weed your garden when it's about 100F.  On the other hand, summer is also a great time to be very active outside. With that said, if you've just come in from swimming all day, or doing hours of hard work in the sun, you will likely be famished.

Such is the case for my 14 year old daughter who is going to band camp from 7am until 7pm every day this week. On the blacktop, in direct sun, with her trumpet, being active all day long.  Not looking at her phone.  For those of you who are fluent in the dramatics of teenage girls you know this means one thing. Tears. Lots of them.

A wise man (sometimes I give my husband credit) said, "Just have the macaroni ready and waiting and then send her straight to her room."

Macaroni and cheese, otherwise known as penne au gratin, has the ability to heal the inconsolable teenage girl. It's pretty much magic. Easy to eat penne noodles, a smooth cheesy sauce, pretty chunks of fresh ripe summer tomatoes, and a crunchy Parmesan and paprika topping.  Comfort food for anytime of year.
Penne Au Gratin
Recipe adapted from Essential Pepin
by Jacques Pépin
Serves 4

6 ounces (2-1/4 cup) penne
1-1/2 teaspoons butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2-1/2 cups milk
4-1/2 ounces cheddar cheese, cut into 1/2" dice (1 cup)
3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 large tomato, halved, seeded, and cut into 1/2-inch dice (1-1/4 cups)
1-1/2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 teaspoon paprika

Preheat oven to 400F.  Bring 4 quarts of salted water to a boil in a large pot. Add the penne, stir well, and cook for about 8 minutes, until tender but still slightly al dente. Drain the penne in a colander.  Set aside.

Heat the butter and oil in a saucepan until hot. Add the flour and cook, stirring, over medium heat for about 10 seconds, then add the milk, stirring it in quickly with a whisk so the mixture doesn't scorch. Bring to a boil and boil for 10 seconds. Add the cheddar cheese, salt, and pepper, mix well, and cook over low heat, stirring for 3 to 4 minutes or until smooth.

Mix the pasta with the cheese sauce and transfer the mixture to a 6-cup gratin dish (I like to use my cast iron skillet).  Scatter the tomato on top of the pasta. Combine the Parmesan and paprika in a small bowl and sprinkle the mixture on the pasta. Bake for 30 minutes at 400F.  Serve immediately.
Theme: The Mother Of All Sauces!

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Jacques Pépin's Yellow Pepper, Gruyère, and Pine Nut Pizza

So there I am sitting on the couch looking for something new to make. Something really different. Something light and easy.  Something fun.  Except there's a problem. I have a rather obnoxious craving for Gruyère cheese. the index for Gruyère cheese and voila I discovered this fun, unique, and easy recipe for Yellow Pepper, Gruyère, and Pine Nut Pizza.

I'm so glad I discovered this recipe because I love the combination of ingredients. The pine nuts compliment the Gruyère's nutty flavor and provide a wonderful texture to the pizza. The olives are a gorgeous pop of color and add a lovely briney flavor that really makes the whole pizza pop. However, I think the best part is the overall ease of this recipe because it uses pita bread for the pizza crust. All you have to do is slice one pita bread in half lengthwise, brush it with a little olive oil, top, and bake. The pita bread half is so thin it becomes crispy and crunchy, which I absolutely love. It's also the perfect size for an individual portion. I can definitely see myself making this version again and also borrowing the pita bread technique for other variations. An easy and satisfying summer lunch or dinner. You could even set up a station and let everyone create their own!
 Yellow Pepper, Gruyère, and Pine Nut Pizza
Recipe Adapted by Essential Pepin
by Jacques Pepin
Serves 1

3 tablespoons diced yellow bell pepper
1 pita bread half (7-8 inches in diameter)
2 tablespoons pine nuts
10 oil-cured black olives, pitted and sliced
2 scallions, trimmed and coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup grated Gruyère cheese

Preheat the oven to 400F. Cut the pita bread in half lengthwise to create a two very thin crusts. Place pita bread onto a cookie sheet. Brush pita crust with a light amount of olive oil.  

Begin topping the crust with the Gruyère, then the yellow pepper, olives, pine nuts and finish with the chopped scallions and a sprinkle of black pepper.  Bake at 400 for 10-15 minutes. Cut and serve.
Theme: Fast Food Jacques Way!

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Wonton Cannelloni In Tomato Sauce

This is my idea of a beautiful fusion dish. Here, Chinese wonton wrappers are used in place of Italian pasta to reduce the prep time of an otherwise time-consuming dish. Skip the step of boiling the pasta and simply assemble your ricotta filling directly into the soft and pliable wonton wrappers. have a quick family-pleasing meal that looks as if it took hours to make but was really put together in about 30 minutes.

It's as simple as making a quick tomato sauce in a blender; whipping some ricotta with eggs and chives; grating a little cheese; and filling the wonton wrappers. A quick 20 minutes in the oven and you're ready to go. A little salad or green veg on the side and everyone will think you're a genius for making a delicious dinner in no time at all! This one is going in the files for those busy weeknights.
Wonton Cannelloni in Tomato Sauce
Adapted from Fast Food My Way
by Jacques Pepin
Serves 4-6

1 (28-ounce) can Italian-style tomatoes
3 garlic cloves
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons good olive oil
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
1pound ricotta cheese
2 large eggs
4 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
1 package of wonton skins
1 cup grated mozzarella cheese
2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Note: The size of your wontons will dictate how many wonton skins you'll need in order to use all the ricotta filling. Pepin's recipe calls for 6, but his must have been very large.  I 
had to use about 20 smaller wonton skins to use all my filling.

Heat the oven to 375F. Put the tomatoes with their liquid, garlic, 3/4 teaspoon of the salt, half of the pepper, the olive oil, and the Italian seasoning in a food processor and process until smooth.

Mix the ricotta, eggs, remaining salt and pepper, and 2 tablespoons of the chives in a bowl.

Pour 1/2 cup of the tomato sauce into a rectangular baking dish (about 11x9). Place a few spoonfuls (depending on the size of your wonton) of the ricotta mixture into the middle of each wonton.  Bring the two opposite sides of the wonton skin over the cheese filling to enclose it, creating a roll. Repeat with the remaining wonton skins until you've used all the filling. Arrange the wontons seam side down, lined up in a row next to one another in the dish.

Pour the remaining sauce over the cannelloni (it will fill the spaces between the cannelloni and even out the surface).  Place the baking dish on a cookie sheet, sprinkle the mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses on top, and bake for 15 minutes.

Sprinkle the cannelloni with the remaining 2 tablespoons chives and serve immediately.


Saturday, June 27, 2015

Celebrate Summer With A Frozen Watermelon Slush

I didn't want the 12 pound watermelon rolling around in the back so I held onto it as I drove. Watermelon in my left hand. Steering wheel in my right. Sometimes, when the mood strikes me, I do these things just to amuse myself. A driver just going about their day passes me on the road and chuckles, or they honk and give a thumbs up, or they scream WATERMELON at the top of their lungs as they whiz by. Either way, it always results in a good laugh. I'm always up for squeezing a few more laughs into my day.

When I arrived home safely, watermelon in hand, I decided to give this particular watermelon a special treatment.  I had watermelon margaritas on my mind, but the kids were begging for watermelon, so whatever I chose needed to be kid-friendly.  Thankfully, I found this recipe for Frozen Watermelon Slush in Jacques Pepin's book and it was perfect! A tasty and refreshing slush for the kiddos and the ideal base for an adult drink. Simply add some watermelon slush to a glass and top it with a little splash of tequila or vodka, a quick squeeze of lime, and you have the perfect summery drink! It's delightful!

Frozen Watermelon Slush
Adapted from Essential Pepin
by Jacques Pepin
Serves 8-10

1 medium watermelon (about 12 pounds)
3/4 cup fresh lime or lemon juice
3/4 cup sugar

Halve the watermelon lengthwise, halve again, and cut into 2-inch pieces. Remove and discard the rind, black seeds, and as many of the softer white seeds as possible. Cut the flesh into 1-inch chunks. Place in a food processor, in batches if necessary, and process until liquefied; some small chunks may remain. You should have about 10 cups. Add the lime or lemon juice and sugar and process until incorporated. Blend in batches if necessary.
Transfer the watermelon mixture to a stainless steel bowl, cover, and freeze until solid, 8 to 10 hours. 

About 2 to 3 hours before serving, move the bowl to the refrigerator to soften the mixture. In the hour before serving, use a fork to break the softened mixture into shavings. Serve in chilled glass goblets or bowls. Garnish with lime and/or watermelon wedges.

Theme: June Potluck!

Friday, June 12, 2015

Croutons with Creamy Red Pepper Dip

It's time for another mystery box madness with I Heart Cooking Clubs. Participants are asked to chose 3 out of 10 ingredients and make a dish from one of our 12 IHCC chefs. The ingredients were really tough this time around: Any White-Fleshed Fish, Green Leaf Lettuce, Pine Nuts,Dill, Cheddar Cheese, Almond Extract or Liqueur, Blueberries, Cornstarch, Bell Pepper, and Black Beans. It's not that the ingredients didn't favor one another, because they definitely do. The trouble was I simply couldn't find a recipe among our 12 IHCC chefs that contained 3 of those ingredients. 
So, what did I do? Well, I cheated.  I chose Pepin's Croutons with Creamy Red Pepper Dip because it contains red bell pepper and dill.  Then I got crafty and served it on a bed of green leaf lettuce. Yes, I did!

We all loved the pretty color of this dip and thought it was really tasty with the crunchy croutons.  While this dip contains both cream cheese and cottage cheese it is not necessarily cheesy. The cheese creates a wonderful creamy consistency, but the main flavor is the red pepper and the dill (which is actually a delicious combination). I think this is a perfect summer dip for croutons, crackers,or even some fresh veggies. I can definitely see myself making it again for a party.

Croutons with Creamy Red Pepper
Adapted from Simple and Healthy Cooking
by Jacques Pepin
Serves 6

2 cloves garlic, peeled
1 jar (5 ounces) red peppers, drained
2 oz. cream cheese (1/4 cup)
2 tablespoons cottage cheese
1 teaspoon minced fresh dill
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 very thin French-style baguette bread loaf (6 ounces)
fresh dill sprigs
Garnish: green leaf lettuce

Preheat oven to 400F.

Place one garlic clove in the bowl of a food processor. Add the red peppers, cream cheese, cottage cheese, dill, lemon juice and black pepper.  Process the mixture until it is smooth.  Set aside.

To make the croutons, cut the bread into 42 to 48 slices. Arrange the slices on a cookie sheet and bake them for 10 minutes, or until crisp. Remove from the oven and rub each slice with the other clove of garlic and drizzle croutons lightly with olive oil. Spread the croutons with the pepper spread and garnish each with a small sprig of fresh dill.
Theme: Mystery Box Madness June 2015

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Jacques Pépin's Quiche with Bacon

Gruyère cheese is something I rarely used prior to cooking with Jacques Pépin. However, Jacques' recipes favor Gruyère and I am ever so thankful for the push to experiment with this marvelous cheese. Gruyère is now my favorite cheese. Hands down!

Gruyère is sweet but slightly salty, with a somewhat nutty flavor, and it melts beautifully. I like it for snacking, grilled cheese, sauces such as bechamel, and as a topping for any gratin. I've been buying the real deal cave-aged Gruyère from Switzerland and it is pricey but it's flavor and melt-ability simply cannot be beat.

This bacon quiche is really more of a  Gruyère quiche. The five slices of crumbled bacon lend a hint of bacon flavor, but what you really taste in this quiche is the one and a half cups of diced Gruyère.  The Gruyère (and the bacon) settle to the bottom and create a bacony cheesy layer that is quite addicting! I was hoping for leftovers but we loved this so much we ate it in one setting!

Quiche with Bacon
Adapted from Essential Pepin
by Jacques Pépin
Serves 6-8

1-1-/2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt
4 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons lard or vegetable shortening
1/4 cup ice-cold water

4 large eggs
1-1/2 cups milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
5 slices bacon, cooked in a skillet until crisp and broken into pieces
1-1/2 cups diced Gruyere cheese

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

For the Dough: Combine the flour, salt, butter, and lard or shortening together in a food processor and process until you have a coarse mixture, about 10 seconds. Add the water and process for 5 seconds. Turn the dough out and gather together in a ball. Roll the dough out with a rolling pin into an 11-or 12-in circle and use it to aline a 9- to 10-inch tart pan with removable bottom or a pie pan. Refrigerate until you are ready to fill the quiche shell.

For the Filling: Beat the eggs in a bowl only until well mixed. Stir in the milk, cream, and salt and pepper. Scatter the bacon and cheese over the dough. Place the pan on a cookie sheet and pour in the egg mixture. Bake for 1 hour,or until the filling is set and browned on top.  Remove from the oven rested for at least 15 to 20 minutes. Cut into slices and serve.

Theme: Fromage S'il Vous Plait!

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Jacques Pépin's Egg and Onion Gratin {One Of My All-Time Faves}

So this Egg and Onion Gratin is one of my all time favorites. Hands down!
You simply cannot beat this dish when it comes to simple and comforting fare.
Try it and I bet it will be one of your new favorites too! You probably have all the ingredients on hand already. Serve it with a slice of toast and I promise you'll fall in love just like we did.
Egg and Onion Gratin
Adapted from Essential Pepin
by Jacques Pépin
Serves 6

7 large hard-boiled eggs, peeled
2 tablespoons butter
1-1/2 cups sliced onions
1 tablespoon all purpose flour
1-1/2 cups milk
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 cup grated Gruyere cheese

Slice the eggs crosswise with an egg slicer or a knife and arrange them in a 4 to 6 cup gratin dish.  Preheat the oven to 400F. 

Melt the butter in a medium saucepan. When it is hot, add the onions and cook over medium high heat, stirring once in a while, for 2-1/2 to 3 minutes, until they sizzle and have just started to brown.  Add the flour, mix well with a wooden spatula, and cook for about 30 seconds. Add the milk, salt, and pepper, stirring constantly to prevent lumps, and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Reduce the heat and let the sauce simmer gently for about a minute.

Pour the sauce over the eggs and mix the sauce and eggs gently.  Sprinkle with the grated cheese and bake for 10 to 12 minutes.

Turn the oven to broil.  Place the eggs under the hot broiler for 4 to 5 minutes to make a nice brown crust. Serve immediately.

Theme: May Potluck!