I’m on a quest to try all the recipes in the summer section of Fresh Food Fast. In the past few weeks I tried five new recipes:
- Pan-seared summer squash with garlic and mint
- White bean and arugula salad with lemon dill vinaigrette
- Chilled soba noodles in dashi with tofu and shredded romaine
- Warm green beans and new potatoes with sliced eggs and grilled onions
- Chilled tomato soup with shallots, cucumbers, and corn.
- Spicy corn frittata with tomatoes and scallions
Pan-seared summer squash with garlic and mint
Berley says that pan-searing the squash concentrates the sugar and locks in the juices. He’s right, but wow is it a lot of work! I used my 9-inch cast iron skillet and it takes a long time to pan-sear 2 pounds of 1/2-inch-thick zucchini slices. Plus it’s really hot standing over the skillet for that long. My cast iron skillet wasn’t that happy afterwards. Even though I tried to keep the pan from getting too hot, quite a bit of the seasoning was burnt off by the end.
The dressing is pretty simple, but ultra-flavorful: lemon juice, fresh mint, garlic cloves, salt, and red pepper flakes. The recipe also calls for lots of olive oil, but I don’t think it’s actually needed. I will usually serve this with another dish that already has plenty of fat, and the salad tastes just fine without the oil, or with only a little. Derek loved this dish. I made it two days in a row and he ate it all up both times. I served it as a side dish when I had company over for dinner, but they didn’t say anything about it nor did they have seconds. I don’t think they liked it. But Derek and I were glad not to have to share the rest!
If I had a big griddle perhaps the searing would be faster. I went to the store here to look for a griddle, but the only one they had didn’t have a smooth surface (it was actually a grill pan), plus it cost 100 euros and weighed about a ton! If I’m going to buy a griddle I think I want something I can make pancakes on, so a smooth surface is necessary.
I thought maybe I could sear the squash in the oven, but I’m afraid that the zucchini will just stew, rather than sear.
White bean and arugula salad with lemon dill vinaigrette
I don’t normally buy arugula in Germany because it’s mostly stems and doesn’t have much flavor. I miss the intense, peppery bite of American arugula. But Derek and I rode our bikes to France this weekend, and so I picked up some French arugula. It was definitely much less stemmy, although I’m not sure it had a whole lot more flavor.
I decided to use the arugula to make this salad. I opened a can of white beans, which turned out to be some kind of huge bean, much bigger than Great Northern beans. I thought they were a little dry and starchy, but Derek commented on how nice the texture was. “Are these favas” he asked. Nope, “Riesenbohnen” I replied. The name translates to “jumbo beans”. I’m not sure what they’re called in English.
In addition to the arugular and white beans, the recipe called for a yellow bell pepper and shaved parmesan for garnish. The dressing is a mixture of olive oil, lemon juice, fresh garlic, and fresh dill. The dressing was similar in some ways to the dressing for the zucchini dish. But because this recipe calls for lots of olive oil it was much greasier tasting.
The salad was really pretty. The green arugula and dill served as a perfect backdrop for the yellow pepper and white beans and parmesan. But the salad didn’t quite work for me. The flavor of the dressing was nice, but the salad as a whole just fell a little flat. Despite all the oil in the dressing, it just tasted too dry to me. Arugula is a pretty dry salad green, and the beans were starchy. Even the bell pepper didn’t have a whole lot of moisture in it. Maybe the addition of tomato or cucumber would have helped, or a creamier cheese rather than the parmesan. Or maybe it was just that my French arugula (roquette) was just not flavorful enough, or that my beans weren’t the right type.
Derek liked the salad more than me. He didn’t think it was dry at all, and he appreciated the intensity of the dressing and the texture of the beans.
Chilled soba noodles in dashi with tofu and shredded romaine
It was so hot on Sunday night that I decided to make the recipe for chilled soba noodles in dashi with tofu and shredded romaine. Cooked, cooled soba noodles are mixed with cold kombu broth, soy sauce, mirin, rice vinegar and ginger. Then the noodle bowl is topped with lettuce, raw tofu, daikon, carrot, scallion, and strips of nori. The recipe says it serves 4, but calls for 12 ounces of noodles and one pound of tofu. I think the recipe is enough for 6 servings. The soup was supposed to be served with edamame as an appetizer, but I decided there was enough soy in the recipe, and skipped that part. There was one problem with the recipe, which was that I couldn’t find anywhere how the tofu was supposed to be cut. I ended up cutting it in long, thin strips, but I’m not sure that was what Berley intended.
I was expecting the soup to be ice cold, and kind of dreading it. I have a traumatic memory of going to a Korean restaurant in Pittsburgh getting ice cold (literally over ice) noodle soup, fully of really sticky, gloopy noodles, and some very unfamiliar, fishy flavors. But this soup was merely cool, not ice cold.
I think the recipe works well, and I quite liked the fresh lettuce in the soup. Still, I probably wouldn’t make this recipe again for myself. The kombu and the nori made the whole dish taste quite fishy to me, but since I didn’t grow up eating fish or seaweed I think I’m still just not that used to the flavors of the sea. Also I didn’t have mirin (can’t find it here for some reason) so I used regular white wine. I’m not sure what the difference is, but I’m guessing the broth would have been slightly better with the mirin.
Derek quite liked the soup when I served it for dinner. The only thing he didn’t care for was the raw tofu, which he found slimy, sour, and unappealing. (The recipe called for soft tofu, and mine was probably closer to medium or even firm. Perhaps I should have cooked it.) Derek also had the soup for lunch the next day, but said that it wasn’t that good after sitting in the fridge for 12 hours. I’m not sure how it changed, but he didn’t like it that much. Derek’s Korean post doc also tried this soup. He didn’t say whether he liked it or not, but he assured me that it didn’t taste Korean at all. He promised that someday he’d teach me how to make an ice cold Korean soup.
I had a little of the dish two days later, but I didn’t care for it that much. If I make this again I’ll plan it so I don’t have any leftovers.
Derek: C+/B- (because of the tofu and the experience with the leftovers)
Warm green beans and new potatoes with sliced eggs and grilled onions
In the book the photo of this salad shows mostly eggs, green beans, and onions. But the salad itself ended up being more like a warm potato salad with green beans added, and a few onions and eggs on top.
Onions are dry-fried in a skillet until browned, then mixed with balsamic vinegar, mustard, thyme, and olive oil. I doubled the thyme because I think Berley always lowballs the amount of fresh herbs. I used all the olive oil in this recipe, since it didn’t seem like an excessive amount given the amount of vegetables. New potatoes are sliced and steamed til soft, and mixed with blanched green beans and hard boiled eggs, and the dressing. The same water is used to steam the potatoes, boil the eggs, and blanch the green beans. But strangely, Berley doesn’t say to salt the water until the last step. So the potatoes were cooked without any salt at all, and seemed a little bland.
The recipe works well, but I couldn’t really taste the thyme (despite doubling it) and I found the salad just a tad boring. It ended up being a potato salad of sorts, but I didn’t like it as much as the French-style potato salad from Cook’s Illustrated. Maybe I need better balsamic vinegar and mustard. Mine are just regular supermarket brands. To add some flavor I added some minced parsley and the juice from half a lemon, and more salt, and it was better. I quite enjoyed the veggies with the hard boiled eggs, but there didn’t seem to be enough eggs to go around. Berley says this recipe serves 4 but again I think it probably serves 5 or 6. I served it for dinner to three people, and then again to three people for lunch the next day. Derek’s Korean post doc seemed to like it. Derek said it was good, but not stellar.
I might make this again for Derek and me, but I’m not sure I’d serve it for company. Derek said it was too homely. I thought it looked okay, but it certainly wasn’t as pretty as the salad in the picture. For one, my onions didn’t hold together so well, so I didn’t end up with any nice big, purple crescents. Also the balsamic vinegar turned the potatoes a not-so-attractive brown color, and my potatoes were a tad overcooked so everything was coated with a bit of starchy mashed potato goo. Next time I’ll be careful not to overcook the potatoes and I’ll salt them while they’re steaming.
Chilled tomato soup with shallots, cucumbers, and corn
To make this tomato soup you chop the tomatoes and then salt them and let them sit in the fridge. Berley doesn’t say why you salt the tomatoes, but I found this explanation on Cook’s Illustrated’s gazpacho recipe:
Our research revealed that a tomato’s flavor is built up in its cells, and the key to improving the taste of an inferior supermarket tomato is to burst those cells. We decided to try salting the tomatoes and letting them sit. The salt pulls out water-soluble flavor compounds as it forces the proteins to separate from those compounds, releasing more flavor.
Next, shallots are steeped in vinegar and corn is steamed. A seeded cucumber is cubed. Finally, the tomatoes are pureed and the liquid strained to remove the tomato seeds and skins. Pushing the tomato puree through my (quite fine) sieve was a lot of work! As I worked on it, I was hoping that the soup was worth all that labor. Once the tomatoes are strained, they resulting liquid is mixed with the corn, cucumber, shallots, some basil, and a little vinegar.
I really wanted to like this soup, but I just could not. To me it tasted extremely salty (even though I halved the salt in the recipe) and way too vinegary. Derek liked it though. He downed his bowl quickly. The next day, however, he wasn’t that interested in the leftovers. They just sat there for two days until I placed it in front of him, at which point he ate it and said “that was good–kind of like gazpacho.” Hmm, maybe that’s why I didn’t like the soup. I’ve never had a gazpacho I liked. I gave the rest of the soup to two hungry guests who had come over for a poker game. They both said they liked it.
Spicy corn frittata with tomatoes and scallions (August 2012)
Neither Derek nor I are usually frittata fans, but this one sounded unusual. It has 2 cups of fresh corn kernels, a whole cup of cilantro, and a whole bunch of scallions, plus a jalapeno, garlic, and 2 cups of fresh tomatoes. I followed the recipe except that I cut down on the fat a bit (instead of 5 Tbs. I used 3 Tbs.). The recipe doesn’t specify how much salt to add (which is annoying because a frittata is kind of hard to salt to taste). I added 3/4 tsp. kosher salt, which seemed about right.
The frittata came out okay. It still had that strange frittata texture I don’t care for, but the corn kernels helped distract me from the texture of the eggs. I liked how the corn added sweetness and the kernels kind of pop in your mouth as you eat it. Overall the flavor wasn’t bad, but I wouldn’t rush to make it again. Derek didn’t like it very much. I had to cajole him into having more than one piece.
This recipe is rather high in calories. Berley sayd that it serves four, but 1/4 of the recipe (even with only 3/5 of the fat) has 550 calories. That seems like a lot considering that it’s not that filling.
I loved the summer squash dish and will definitely make it again, although I’ve got to find a faster (cooler) way to pan-sear all that squash.
Out of the other four recipes the one I’m most likely to make again is the potato/green bean dish. But I’ll probably play with that recipe a bit. I’d like to try to tweak the white bean salad to keep the basic flavors but make it less dry. Given the labor involved in the tomato soup, and the fact that I didn’t like it, I don’t think I’d make it again, even if Derek did enjoy it. The cold soba noodle dish is something I might try again, but I’ll cook the tofu next time, and not make any extra for leftovers.
Coming up from the Fresh Food Fast summer section: whole grain pasta with salsa cruda. Corn season is almost here, and then I’ll also try the three summer recipes that call for lots of corn.