As is often the case with specialty ingredients, a recipe requires a small amount, but you must purchase a much larger portion then needed. This is often true for ingredients like fresh ginger root or fresh turmeric. Unless you cook recipes that use fresh ginger every day, using up a knob of ginger takes a conscious effort. What to make with all that ginger? One solution is make candied ginger.
This week I found myself in this exact predicament of having more fresh ginger than I could use. I bought more ginger than usual because a couple of farmers at the market sold baby ginger. I love how baby ginger looks (also known as young ginger), and wanted to photograph it. With its’ creamy pale-pink coloring and smooth skin, it is hard to believe it is ginger. I had about a half of a pound of young ginger and needed to figure out something to make with it. It dawned on me there was no candied ginger in the house. This was a missing pantry item over the whole summer, so it was time to make it.
I happen to like ginger and often cook with it. When I have candied ginger in my pantry, I enjoy it with my breakfast sprinkled over yogurt, in granola, oatmeal, cookies, pies, crumbles, cakes and muffins, or for an afternoon pick-me-up. I found eating a date stuffed with a slice of candied ginger and a walnut, squelches any sugar cravings and afternoon munchies.
People swear by fresh ginger’s ability to soothe an upset stomach and morning sickness, and is good for digestion. I used to drink an elixir of ginger, turmeric, lemon juice and honey to reduce inflammation. With all these great health benefits, I like to always have some form of ginger available.
Some people have a philosophy, that they won’t make a specialty food if they can easily buy it from a quality and reliable source. Not me. I am open to make just about anything. So why make candied ginger when you can easily buy it? For me, it is all about knowing what I put in my body and reducing my carbon footprint. If I make candied ginger, I can buy organic ginger at the store, or locally grown baby ginger at a farmer’s market. I also don’t use any preservatives.
You also get two by-products when you make candied ginger, ginger simple syrup and ginger sugar. Both taste great in hot or cold tea, coffee, homemade soda or drinks, or in baked goods. I particularly like using the ginger syrup in a ginger martini.
There are a couple of obstacles that intimidate people and prevent them from making candied ginger. You need a candy thermometer, or one that reads temperatures above 250°F (121°C), like a Thermapen instant read thermometer. Thermometers are our friends. They tell us important and accurate information about our food, especially when cooking with meats. This information lets us know our food is properly cooked, or not. There are visual clues to read, but the internal temperature of a piece of meat does not lie and indicates exactly how far along your meat has cooked. If you don’t own a thermometer, you should get one. I rely on mine all the time. You don’t need an expensive one, just one that is reliable and easy to read.
Thermometer brands I like are Thermoworks, and CDN. The Thermapen by Thermoworks is the highest rated instant read thermometer. It is also expensive. Thermoworks makes other instant read thermometers, like pocket thermometers that are less expensive. (This is not a sponsored post)
Also, making candied ginger does take some time to make. Fortunately, while the ginger simmers, cools and dries, you can work on other projects. The time between the cooling and drying, and coating the ginger with sugar is a couple of hours. Later, the sugar-coated ginger needs to air dry some more. Fortunately, this is something you can set up and forget about until later. I believe the positive reasons for making candied ginger outweigh the negatives.
This recipe is slightly adapted from David Lebovitz recipe . I have been making this for a few years and really like it. It produces a lot of the ginger syrup too. I scaled his recipe down and only use a half pound of ginger. The original recipe specifies, one pound of ginger and 4 cups each of sugar and water. It is an easy recipe to scale up or down because the ingredients are easily divided by or multiplied by 2. Plus, the water and sugar ratio is one to one.
Fall is here and along with the changing leaves, back to school, and colder temperatures, the holidays are around the corner. Hopefully, that means there is a lot of festivities and parties to attend. I believe a jar of homemade candied ginger is a perfect host/hostess gift. What a thoughtful thank you. Who does not like a delicious homemade treat? Attach a recipe that uses candied ginger, and your host or hostess will be more appreciative.
Making your own candy ginger is easy to do and tastes a lot better than store bought. In addition to the candy ginger, this recipe makes two other by-products, ginger simple syrup and ginger sugar. So don't throw out anything. The syrup is great in drinks or used in baked goods.
The total time to make candied ginger does not include the couple of hours needed to dry the ginger after it is cooked in the simple syrup and before you coat the ginger with granulated sugar.
Candied ginger, also known as crystallized ginger, tastes great served with fresh fruit, like pears and apples. It is also a great addition in muffins, pies, cookies and cakes. I like to add it to my bowl of yogurt and granola.
Sheet pan large enough for the cooling rack to fit in
Air tight container to store the candied ginger
Peel the ginger using the side of a spoon and scrape off the thin skin. Slice the ginger into 1/8-inch (3 mm) pieces with a thin and sharp paring knife or mandoline slicer.
Add the ginger slices to a saucepan then add enough water to cover the ginger slices by one inch (2.5 cm). Bring the water to a boil and simmer for twenty minutes or until the ginger slices are tender and easily pierced with a fork*.
Pour out the tender ginger slices into a fine mesh strainer resting over a bowl to catch the water. Measure the water and add more to equal 2 cups for a half pound of ginger.
Add the water and 2 cups of sugar, pinch of kosher salt to the saucepan and add the ginger slices. (if you are concerned with the ginger syrup crystallizing add 1- 2 TB of corn syrup). Stir to help the sugar dissolve.
Bring the sugar water to a boil, then turn the heat down to medium-high and cook the ginger until the sugar water reaches 225°F (107°C).
Turn off heat and set the saucepan aside.
If you want to keep the candied ginger in the syrup, let it steep in the syrup for at least one hour, up to overnight. Keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for about one year.
If you want to dry the ginger and add a sugar coating, immediately pour the ginger into a fine mesh strainer resting over a bowl large enough to hold the ginger syrup. The ginger syrup is delicious and can be used in many different recipes.
Spread the candied ginger over a cooling rack, resting on a sheet pan to catch any drips. Make sure the ginger slices are not stuck together. Let them air dry for 2 hours. You are ready to coat the ginger when it is sticky but not too wet or dry.
Pour about 1/2 cup (125 ml) of granulated sugar on a plate and toss the ginger slices in the sugar to coat. Return the ginger to a clean cooling rack resting over a clean sheet pan and let it dry for 2 hours.
Store in an air tight container, in a cool, dry place. The candied ginger will last for about one month.
*The time spent simmering the ginger depends on the age of your ginger root. The younger the ginger is the more tender it is. Older ginger can get a very fibrous texture. Simmer the ginger slices until it is just tender.
One of my pet peeves is how early product commercialization for the winter holidays begins. Just last week, when I walked through the electronic doors of a grocery store, the potent artificial scent of cinnamon pine cones accosted me. These pine cones were prominently on display at the entrance of the store. Why now? Is there really going to be a run on scented pine cones that you need to start selling them in August? I did not see pumpkins for sale, so why are scented pine cones available now? Instead of pine cones, grocery stores should feature the best produce that is in season now, like figs.
I am pushing figs for several reasons, they are delicious, can be prepared for any type of meal, and I believe they are exquisite. In the Northeast US, figs have two short seasons in early summer and in late summer. In places like California, the season extends over the course of the summer. So, get them while you can because they will disappear soon.
Eat them ripe and fresh as is, or serve with any number of cheeses. Figs and cheese are a classic pairing. I particularly enjoy figs with blue cheese or goat cheese. The sweetness of the fig mingles nicely with the sharp flavors of each cheese. Another great pairing is fig jam and brie. Figs are also delicious for dessert in cakes and pastries like an almond and fig tart. Or, make figs for a savory sauce for pork.
I wanted to make an easy and elegant dessert and decided to simmer the figs in a simple syrup with warm spices like cinnamon, cloves, ginger and black pepper. Along with the spiced figs, I made a yogurt panna cotta. Together, the figs and panna cotta created an exquisite dessert with creamy, tangy and warm flavors. The silky texture of the panna cotta is so smooth and nicely contrasts with the vivid pink color and warmth of the spices in the sauce. I realize I complained about the cinnamon scented pine cones earlier, but this sauce has a natural cinnamon infusion along with other spices. It has just enough spice for the early fall. What is great about this simple syrup recipe is you can use whatever spices you like. Freshly grated nutmeg, allspice, star anise, thyme, and rosemary are all wonderful choices to infuse this light fig sauce.
Along with the fig sauce, panna cotta is one of the easiest desserts to make and has a luscious silky texture. My recipe is based on one from Food and Wine magazine. There are no eggs, just cream, yogurt, sugar and gelatin. You can adjust the flavor of the panna cotta with a number of sweeteners and spices. Because sugar is not important to the structure of panna cotta, it is easy to vary the amount of sugar when you make it. You can adjust the amount depending upon how sweet your sauce or fruit is.
I am always looking for ways to use my homemade yogurt, so I included yogurt in my recipe. If you do not like yogurt, you can use a mixture of whole milk and heavy cream. I have also seen recipes for using goat cheese, yogurt and milk. Or, use a plant based milk product such as almond or coconut milk. I have read from TheKitchn, that unflavored Vegan Jel by Natural Desserts works very nicely for panna cotta. Currently, Vegan Jel by Natural Desserts is unavailable on Amazon. However, other vegan gelatin alternatives are available. Also, I read Whole Foods carries Vegan Jel. If anyone has used it I would love to know how you like it.
The most difficult thing when making panna cotta, is unmolding it from your ramekins or cups. I recommend a ramekin with smooth sides as it is easier to run a knife around the edge. Also recommended, is a light coating of canola or vegetable oil. The oil, and a quick dunk in a warm bath will eventually release the panna cotta from the dish to present on a plate. Or, forget about unmolding it and serve it directly in the container you set it in.
Save the scented pine cones for when it is cold enough to build a fire in the fire place and threatening to snow. Now is the time to set our sights on fresh produce, recently harvested and ripe. Fresh figs are a real treat so get them while you can.
Serving Size: 1- 4 ounce panna cotta with fruit and syrup
Spiced fresh figs in a simple syrup is the perfect pair with creamy and tangy yogurt panna cotta. Season the simple syrup with any spices you prefer, or use the ones suggested in this recipe. This dessert is so easy to make and gives an elegant presentation that defies its simplicity. Panna cotta with fresh figs simmered in a spicy syrup is a real thing of beauty to look at and eat.
If you do not have ramekins, small coffee cups will work. Or, use wine glasses and serve them straight from the glass without unmolding them. If you serve them in glasses or cups, make sure there is plenty of room to add the fruit and spiced syrup.
The panna cotta recipe is adapted from Food and Wine Magazine, Greek Yogurt Panna Cotta with Honey-Glazed Apricots. The spiced figs recipe is adapted from, The Spruce, Figs in Spiced Syrup.
See notes for ingredient substitutions.
Yogurt Panna Cotta
Canola or vegetable oil
1 envelope unflavored gelatin 2 1/4 tsp (7 g)
2 TB cold water
1 cup (250 ml) heavy cream
1/3 cup (68 g) granulated sugar
1/2 - 1 tsp real vanilla extract, or 1 vanilla bean split and seeds scraped
1- 17.6 oz (500 g) tub Greek yogurt, about 2 cups
1/3 cup (36 g) walnuts halves
1/2 cup (100 g) granulated sugar
1 cup (250 ml) water
3 whole cloves
1/2 stick cinnamon
1-inch (2.54 cm) piece fresh ginger, peeled and smashed
3 black peppercorns
1/8 tsp anise seed
12 fresh figs
Yogurt Panna Cotta
If you are planning to unmold the panna cotta, lightly grease the sides and bottoms of 6 - 1/2 cup (4 oz /125 ml) ramekins. Set aside. No need to do this step if you are keeping the panna cotta in the serving container.
Add the gelatin and 2 Tb cold water to a small bowl. Let the gelatin rest to soften for 5 minutes.
In a small sauce pan add the cream, sugar, vanilla or vanilla bean, and bring to a slight simmer Once the sugar is completely dissolved, turn off the heat and add the gelatin. Stir until the gelatin is melted.
Pour the yogurt into a medium mixing bowl and whisk out any lumps. If using, remove the vanilla bean. Slowly add the cream into the bowl with the yogurt. Stir, or whisk, as you add the cream to help temper the yogurt.
Once combined, pour the yogurt mixture into the greased 1/2 cup ramekins, or other serving containers and refrigerate, uncovered, at least 3 hours until set. It should look and feel solid with a little bit of jiggle. Once the panna cotta is set, cover each dish with plastic wrap until ready to serve.
Heat an 8-inch (20 cm) skillet over high heat. When the pan is nice and hot, but not smoking, add the walnut pieces and toast until the oil releases. Keep the walnuts in motion, by stirring them or flipping the nuts in the pan like a pro. You will know the walnuts are toasted when you see a slight sheen on the pan’s bottom surface and on your walnuts. Also, the aroma of the walnuts will be slightly more pronounced. Be careful not to burn the walnuts, or they will taste bitter. Remove the walnuts immediately from the skillet to cool.
Add the water and sugar to a sauce pan just large enough to fit all the figs. Turn the heat to medium high and stir until the sugar dissolves. Add the spices and simmer for 10 minutes.
Clean and trim the figs. Clean the figs by wiping them gently with a damp cloth. Remove the stems and discard. Add the figs and walnuts to the syrup and simmer for 5 minutes.
Remove the figs and place on a plate and turn off the heat. Cool the figs and syrup separately so the figs do not fall apart. After 15 minutes or so, strain the syrup through a fine mesh strainer into a bowl and add the figs. Serve warm or chilled.
Store the figs in the syrup in the refrigerator in a covered container. They will last for two weeks, covered in the refrigerator.
Assemble the panna cotta and spiced figs
Remove the panna cotta from the ramekins. Run a thin sharp knife around the inside edge of the ramekin. Dip the container into warm water for 10 seconds. Remove the ramekins and place upside down on your serving dish. Tap the sides and top of your ramekins and jiggle them to encourage the panna cotta to slide out. If no movement occurs, dip the ramekin right side up in the warm water again. Try again. Repeat until the panna cotta are all unmolded.
If you are not serving them right away, loosely cover each panna cotta with plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator.
Just before serving, spoon the spiced syrup over and around the panna cotta. Arrange the figs and walnuts on top or around the panna cotta and serve.
Use any spice combination you like. Cinnamon, clove, ginger, cardamom, freshly grated nutmeg, allspice berries, vanilla bean, black peppercorns are all good suggestions. The spices in the simple syrup are subtly blended and not an overpowering taste experience.
I realize not everyone likes yogurt, so substitute the yogurt with 2 cups (500 ml) whole milk. and continue as directed. Any ratio of yogurt, to heavy cream, to half and half, to milk will work if you use the specified amount of gelatin for 3 cups (750 ml) of dairy.
Sometimes when I begin a new cooking project, I need to forage ahead with blind faith and fingers crossed. Lingering in the back of my conscious is a belief that everything will work. The last thing I want to worry about is my latest “masterpiece” ending up in the trash can. This tomato tart recipe is a perfect example of my latest cooking adventure starting with confidence from blind faith.
I have always wanted to make a tomato tart. Every time I see a photograph of one, I drool over the pictures and imagine tomatoes roasting in the oven, cradled in a buttery pastry crust. Unfortunately, I don’t always believe photographs of tomato tarts show any real likeness to a real-life fully cooked one. Tomatoes consist mostly water and a tart baked with a lot of tomatoes could easily become a soggy mess. So, I often wondered what I was seeing in the tempting photographs was accurate. None the less, I never made a savory tomato pastry, so I can’t say for certain how they look in real-life.
Taking inspiration from a cookbook I am reading, Six Seasons, A New Way with Vegetables by Joshua McFadden, I finally managed to motivate myself and make a tomato tart. I also needed to use up some leftover ingredients as well. Often some of my best meals are the result of needing to use up the leftover ingredients from a former meal. If you haven’t noticed already, a regular statement of mine is, “I created … because, I had leftover …. Now … is a family favorite”.
There are two recipes in “Six Seasons” cookbook that create the foundation for my tomato tart recipe: Israeli-Spiced Tomatoes, Yogurt Sauce and Chickpeas, and a recipe for Pecan Pie Dough. The Israeli-spiced tomatoes have a bright flavor that compliments the natural sweetness in fresh summer tomatoes. It is a delicious salad with the yogurt sauce and chickpeas. This recipe gave me the idea of making a tomato tart using the same seasoning and preparation technique for marinating the tomatoes. I also had two ripe heirloom tomatoes on my window sill giving me the use or lose stare-down.
I also wanted to make the nut pie pastry crust, and Joshua McFadden has an alluring recipe using pecans. A tomato tart seemed like the perfect recipe to use a nut pie crust. Plus, and I am always open for any excuse to bake. For my recipe, I substituted the pecans with walnuts, and reduced the amount of sugar to one tablespoon.
The biggest challenge when baking tomatoes and pastry dough, is keeping the crust from getting a soggy bottom. If you know the challenges ahead, taking the necessary steps to prevent them, will guarantee a beautiful flaky pie crust. With the two foundation recipes set, I went about making the tart and using a few necessary steps to create a tomato tart with a nutty and flaky crust that was anything but soggy.
For my first step, I par-baked the pie crust. Par-baking a pie crust is a technique used for many types of pies and tarts, like lemon meringue pie. Partially baking a pie crust before adding the filling helps produce a dry and flaky pie crust. It might take longer to finish the pie, but this technique really works.
Even a par-baked crust needs a layer of protection between the crust and the filling. For this recipe, I decided to baste a thin layer of Dijon mustard across the bottom of the pre-baked crust. The mustard adds some tang and will mix well with the ricotta cheese. If you do not like Dijon mustard, baste a layer of egg wash over the bottom of the par-baked crust. It does the same job as the mustard without adding any additional flavor.
Try this recipe for potato salad with tomatoes and summer vegetables.
Spread over the mustard, I added a layer of ricotta cheese. Good quality fresh ricotta is so creamy it is worth the higher price. If you can find some at your grocery store, I recommend it. In this tart, the ricotta cheese layer absorbs any of the juices from the tomatoes which helps keep the ricotta from drying out and the crust dry. A lot of tomato tart recipes do not call for ricotta cheese. I added it because it was another leftover ingredient I needed to use up before it expired. The ricotta’s creamy flavor is a nice contrast to the roasted tomatoes. Also, adding the ricotta makes the tart more substantial as a main course for lunch or a light super.
For the final step, I seasoned the tomatoes and let them marinate for an hour. The salt with the spices cause the tomatoes to release some of their liquid. Later, before I arranged the tomatoes around the tart, I used a paper towel to blot the tomato slices and dry them up a bit. The tomatoes marinate while the crust par-bakes, so no additional time is added to the whole process.
It might seem like a lot of steps, but they all add up and work. The result is a tomato tart with a nutty and flaky crust, with a creamy ricotta and roasted tomato filling. I started making this tomato tart with blind faith and fingers crossed. Fortunately, after thinking ahead I came up with solutions to solve any challenges along the way. With inspiration from creative chefs as guidance, I made a tomato tart that I am proud of. There is no false advertising with these photos. What you see is what you get.
Tomato Tart with Ricotta and Mediterranean Seasoning
Prep Time: 1 hour, 20 minutes
Cook Time: 52 minutes
Category: Lunch or Light Supper
Cuisine: Mediterranean - American
This is a great recipe to use up sweet farm fresh tomatoes and creamy ricotta cheese. For a Mediterranean influence, the tomatoes are seasoned with sumac, coriander, cumin and red pepper flakes. This marinate also draws out some tomatoes juices to keep the tart crust from getting soggy.
The walnut crust is more fragile than a traditional one, so lift it and place it carefully in the tart pan. You will need a 9-inch (23 cm) tart pan with a removable bottom for this tart. If you do not have a tart pan make this tart a galette. See instruction in my notes.
Please do not substitute Dijon mustard with a different type of mustard, like Gulden's or French's. They have a very different flavor profile. Use an egg wash instead of the mustard if you do not have it.
This recipe is influenced and adapted from two recipes in Six Seasons Cookbook by Joshua McFadden, Israeli-Spiced Tomatoes with Yogurt and Chickpeas, and Pecan Pie Dough.
Walnut Pastry Dough (recipe follows)
1 garlic clove, minced
3/4 tsp Kosher salt
1 tsp sumac*
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp Aleppo pepper or red pepper flakes
2 tomatoes, medium to large size
1 cup (8 oz / 241 g) fresh ricotta
Zest of one lemon, finely grated
2 tsp lemon thyme, roughly minced
4 medium size leaves of fresh basil, chiffonade
Kosher salt if needed
Fresh ground black pepper
1 TB (3/4 oz / 11 g) Dijon mustard
Finely grated Pecorino Romano Cheese (optional)
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Garnish with fresh lemon thyme and torn basil leaves
Walnut Pie Dough
1/2 cup (2 oz / 58 g) walnuts
1 2/3 cups ( 7.25 oz / 208 g) All-purpose Flour, plus more for rolling
1 TB granulated sugar
1/2 tsp Kosher salt
4 oz (113 g) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces (1 stick)
2 TB ice cold water (more if needed)
Walnut Pie Dough - Makes enough for one 9-inch (cm ) single crust pie or galette
Place the walnuts in a food processor and pulse until a fine and even crumble. Be careful to not over-process the nuts into walnut butter. Pour the walnuts into a mixing bowl and add the flour, sugar and Kosher salt. Mix the ingredients together with a wire whisk until evenly combined. Add the cold butter pieces to the flour mixture and toss to coat the butter with flour. Smush the butter with your fingers into the flour until you get a pebbly mixture of all different sizes. Add 2 TB of ice water and using your hands briefly toss to mix and form a ball. If the dough seems dry add more ice water, one tablespoon at a time.
Lightly dust a clean work surface with flour and place the dough ball on the surface. Starting at the upper edge of your dough, use the heel of your hand to press down and smear a portion of the dough away from you. Use only one motion per part. Continue to smear a portion of the dough away from you until you have worked your way through the ball of dough, about 4-5 smears. Gather the dough and form a disk. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, or up to 2 days. The dough will keep in the freezer for 3 months.
When you are ready to bake, take the tart dough out of the refrigerator and allow it to rest for 10 minutes. This is also a good time to pre-heat your oven to 400°F (204°C). If you have a baking stone place it on a rack in the middle of the oven. Once rested, sprinkle your counter surface with flour and place the dough in the center. Whack the dough with a lightly floured rolling pin. Whack the dough moving from left to right to flatten it out. Turn the dough a quarter turn and whack 4 more times, moving across the disk from left to right. Turn the dough over and repeat 2 more times. Turn the dough over again and repeat. This process helps the dough to form a circle shape.
Roll out the dough with your rolling pin. Always starting at the center of the dough, place your rolling pin in the center and roll away from you. Turn the dough a quarter turn and roll across the dough beginning in the center and roll out. Repeat. Turn the dough over and roll our the dough until you have a 12-inch (30 cm) circle and the dough is about 1/4-inch (6 mm) thick. Dust the countertop with flour as needed to prevent the dough from sticking.
Once you have completed rolling out your dough, place your rolling pin across the middle and lift and drape the dough in half over the rolling pin and towards you. Lift your pastry draped rolling pin across the center of a 9-inch (23 cm) tart pan with removable bottom, and unfold the dough over the pan. Lift the dough edges and ease the dough into place, carefully pressing the dough into the corners without stretching it. Trim the edge of the dough and fold over, into the tart pan to form a thicker tart side. Press the sides of the dough up against the side of the tart pan and even out the edge. Fix any cracks. You want the sides of the tart pastry to be even all around and not too thick. Loosely cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Par-bake the walnut pie dough. Once the dough in the tart pan has chilled for 30 minutes cover the dough with aluminium foil and make a well. The foil should be wider than the tart pan to lift the sides and remove it filled with the pie weights. Fill the interior of the foil well with pie weights or dried beans. Spread them out so they evenly cover the surface of the tart bottom. Place the tart pan on a sheet pan the place the whole thing on the middle rack or baking stone. Bake for 15 minutes then remove the aluminium foil with the pie weights off the tart shell and remove. Turn the heat down to 325°F (162°C) and continue baking for 20 minutes. You want to dry out the crust, but not let it get too brown. Reduce the heat to 300°F (149°C) if the crust edges starts to get too dark. Remove from the oven and cool on a cooling rack for 15-20 minutes. Turn the oven temperature up to 375°F (190°C)
Meanwhile, while the dough is chilling for the first time (before you roll it out), mix together the minced garlic, sumac, ground colander, ground cumin, Kosher salt, and red pepper flakes into a small bowl.
Slice the tomatoes into thick slices across the middle about 1/4-inch (6 mm) thick. Set the tomato slices on a sheet pan in one layer. Sprinkle the seasoning evenly over the tomatoes and let it marinate for one hour.
In a small mixing bowl, stir until smooth and creamy the ricotta cheese, lemon zest, minced lemon thyme and basil. Taste the ricotta. If your fresh ricotta is salty leave it alone. If you think it needs salt, add about 1/4 tsp Kosher salt and stir to combine. Set aside or refrigerate until needed.
While the par-baked tart shell is cooling, line a couple of plates with paper towels. Place the seasoned tomato slices on the paper towel lined plates, seasoned side facing up. Pour any tomato juices and seasoning into the bowl with the ricotta cheese and stir.
Once cooled baste a thin layer of Dijon mustard across the bottom of the tart pastry. If you are not a fan of mustard, baste a lightly beaten egg across the bottom of the tart.
Spread the ricotta cheese evenly over the mustard in the tart.
If using , sprinkle a light layer, about 1-2 TB, of Pecorino Romano cheese over the ricotta cheese.
Layer the tomato slices, seasoned side up, evenly around the tart in a decorative fashion. You will need to overlap each slice because they will shrink while baking. If you have large heirloom tomatoes, you might need to cut them in half to fit as many tomatoes as you can in the tart pan. Any leftover tomato slices you can eat for lunch or a delicious snack.
If using, lightly sprinkle Pecornio Romano cheese over the tomatoes, then drizzle extra virgin olive oil over the tomatoes.
Place the assembled tart on a sheet pan, then place in the oven. Bake for 30 minutes, then check to see if the crust is browning to dark. If the crust edge is browning too quickly, cover the rim with a aluminum foil, but careful not to cover the tart filling. Continue baking, checking the tart every 10 minutes or less, when you get closer to the end. It could take around 50 minutes total time. The tart is done when the juices all around the tart are bubbly, the tomatoes are shriveled and the Romano cheese is browning on top. Also, the crust is a nice golden-brown color.
Remove the tart from the oven and cool on a cooling rack for 20 minutes.
Remove the tart pan rim. Carefully place the tart on top of a large can of tomatoes or other can or bowl with stable flat top. Carefully hold the pan rim and slide it down off the tart. Place the tart on a cooling rack and continue to cool. When cool use a wide spatula to help slide the tart off the bottom portion of the tart pan. (Or you can leave it alone if you don't want to take any chances). Garnish right before serving with fresh lemon thyme and born fresh basil leaves.
Serve warm or at room temperature. Best eaten the day it is made.
Sumac is the ground berries from a Sumac bush. It has a slightly bitter taste and a popular seasoning in Mediterranean cuisine. There is no great substitute to resemble it. If you do not have it, or cannot get it. Sprinkle finely grated lemon zest over the tomatoes when it is done baking.
If you do not own a tart pan, you can make this tart a galette. However, there are some changes in the preparation and baking. There is no need to par-bake the dough. After rolling out the dough, Move the dough to a sheet pan covered with parchment paper. Arrange the tart ingredients over the pastry dough in the same order as in the instructions, leaving a 2-inch border. Fold the rim of the dough over the ingredients and pleat to seal. Refrigerate the galette for 30 minutes. Brush the dough with melted butter, olive oil, or egg wash and bake, following the instructions above.
Copyright All Rights Reserved Ginger Smith @lemonthymeandginger.com 2016 -2017
Some Mediterranean spices are easily available at your grocery store. Kalustayan’s in New York City is a very reliable store for all kinds of spices and food items. You and buy online or in person. Click here for Aleppo Pepper, and Sumac.
Just because the days are getting shorter doesn’t mean we need to hunker down and stay inside. This time of year, the nights are cooler but the sun is still warm and shining. Even with the cooler temperatures, one can still feel the warmth of the sun on their back and soak in all the rays. Sit back on a picnic blanket with friends and family and close your eyes to the sun and relax. A late summer/early fall picnic is a wonderful way to enjoy the season. Gathered here is a collection of easy picnic food ideas and recipes to inspire you for your next outing.
Picnic food and your spread do not need to be a Martha Stewart event. In addition to serving fresh and delicious food, great picnic food should be easy to transport, have minimal prep work, and keep its freshness over time. You can make it as fancy as you want, but eating outside is a relaxing casual affair, so the food prep should be easy and relaxed too.
In my childhood, the standard picnic food was sandwiches or hot dogs cooked over an open fire. There is a reason these items are still popular. Sandwiches are perfect picnic food. You can make them gourmet, or PB and J, and they do not require plates or utensils to eat them. Wrap them up in parchment or wax paper, then later the paper performs double duty as the “plate”. You can eat half, then cover them up in the wrapping it came in. Then run off for a game of Frisbee.
I included a recipe for grilled chicken sandwiches made on focaccia, with smoked mozzarella, avocado, arugula and basil mayonnaise. Use your favorite bread, but make sure it will last for a couple of hours without getting soaked or smashed. Smushed sandwiches are never fun to eat so pack your sandwiches carefully.
What is it about the fresh air that causes people to want to snack on salty food? I don’t know, all I know is I am right there with everyone else chomping down on chips when I play outside, go to the beach or hike. Nibbles or snacks are always great picnic food, but you don’t have to go crazy and buy out the store. I recommend, one item for an appetizer, and one salty crunchy snack, like chips. It is easy to go overboard with the snacks, but they are not the only food items at the picnic. No one will return home hungry.
A terrific picnic appetizer is tapenade. Pictured in my picnic photographs is artichoke tapenade, a recipe I made from My Paris Kitchen by David Lebovitz. The recipe I used from this book is a little different from the recipe on his website, but it is still delicious and easy to make.
Another great spread or dip is muhammara, roasted red pepper dip. Muhammara is one of my favorite vegetable spreads. Both spreads are gluten-free, dairy-free, and vegan. Serve either with crusty bread, pita chips, or cut vegetables.
I believe every picnic should include some fruit. Ripe fruit is great picnic food because most fruit is naturally designed for individual servings. Fruit provides a bright and fresh taste to counterpoint the rich sandwiches and salty snacks. It is very refreshing. I am craving watermelon now so I included it for this blog post, but any fruit will suffice. You can either slice the watermelon, cut it up into chunks for easy picking, or make a fruit salad.
For this article, I decided to make a fruit salad made with watermelon, nectarines, mint, basil, with a honey lemon and chili pepper vinaigrette. I love herbs with fruit and adding the bit of hot pepper brings out the sweetness in the fruit. Included in the post is the recipe for this fruit salad. Making a fruit salad requires having serving utensils and plates, or you can bring additional beverage cups to use. Then all you need are utensils.
Dessert should be simple and there are many options. One option is a light unfrosted loaf or single layer cake like gluten-free Nifty cake. This cake is made with oat flour and has a slightly nutty flavor. It is a light sponge cake that everyone will enjoy. For ease of transporting it, make it a single layer cake, (and without the whipped cream frosting as pictured in the recipe), and serve with the watermelon fruit salad.
Another dessert option is cookies. Children young and old love cookies and they travel well. Kitchen sink oatmeal cookies are perfect for picnics. They are loaded with rolled oats, raisins, butterscotch chips, and chocolate chips. They can stand up to the heat of the day without melting and falling apart. Also pictured is, Ginger Molasses Cookies from Flour by Joanne Chang. Joanne is the owner of Flour Bakery in Boston. I love molasses cookies and wanted to test her recipe. In the link from the Boston Globe, her recipe is the second cookie recipe on the first page.
If you plan on bringing beer or wine, also include a non-alcoholic beverage like lemon-cucumber water or strawberry lemonade. Picnics are a time to drink responsibly, so keep your beer and wine on the low alcohol level.
Helpful Tips for Prep and Picnic Food :
If you are picnicking with friends, divide and conquer the food preparation. I have found people really like to participate and help.
Tapenade or Muhammara can be prepared the night before your picnic. You can also prepare the chicken and dessert the night before. This leaves making the sandwiches, fruit salad, and packing for the morning of.
Along with your choice of beverage, bring water for drinking and cleaning scrapes or sticky hands. Also paper towels come in handy if something spills. They are light weight and easy to stuff into a pocket.
Pack everything in a couple of insulated tote bags with ice packs. Keep your load light in case you need to hike to your picnic spot. Also bring a blanket to sit on.
Don’t forget the trash bag. A lot of places are carry-in / carry-out parks, and often it is hard to find a trash can when you need one.
Bring a First-Aid Kit, especially if you are traveling with children. At a minimum bring Band-Aids and an antiseptic lotion. They are easy to carry in your wallet or zip-lock bag to store in your picnic basket.
Bee stings are common at picnics. The general advice is to get the stinger out quickly and apply ice, (or cool pack). Read the link for more bee sting information.
If you are serving alcoholic beverages, please drink responsibly.
Easy Picnic Food Ideas for Summer and Fall- Grilled Chicken Sandwiches and Watermelon and Nectarine Fruit Salad
Category: Lunch Picnic
Grilled chicken sandwiches with smoked mozzarella, avocado and basil mayonnaise Is perfect picnic food for an afternoon outing. Also included is a recipe for a fruit salad made with watermelon, nectarines, fresh herbs with spicy honey lemon dressing. In the notes is my recipe for the basil mayonnaise and a pesto. Feel free to use your favorite basil pesto recipe or follow mine, just omit the grated cheese and pinenuts. It may look like a long list, but there are several food items here for you to make and enjoy.
Depending on how large your bread slices are will determine the amount of chicken, mozzarella and avocado you need to cover your bread slice. I made my sandwiches with focaccia about 4 x 4 inches in size.
The prep time varies for each food item. The grilled chicken takes about 20 minutes to cook not counting the overnight marinating and cooling. The sandwiches take about 10 minutes once everything is cooked and prepped.
The fruit salad takes about 15 - 20 minutes to make.
For the tapenade and muhammara recipes, and dessert recipes - click on recipe links in blog post.
About 4 oz (125 g) of Smoked Mozzarella, sliced into 1/4-inch thick slices
1-2 avocados cut into thin slices
1-part basil sauce*
Watermelon, Nectarine and Basil Salad with Spicy Lemon Honey Dressing
1/4 (3 lbs / 1 k 406 g) Seedless watermelon, cut into big bite size chunks
3 ripe nectarines, each sliced into 12 wedges
Small handful of Fresh Mint leaves
Small handful of Fresh Basil leaves
About 2 TB fresh lemon juice
1/2 tsp honey
1/8 tsp ground chili pepper
The day/night before pound the chicken breasts to an even thickness, then season both sides of the breasts with the salt, garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, dried oregano, and lemon zest. Place the seasoned chicken on a plate or container and cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. There should be a light and even coating of seasoning over the chicken breast, but not too heavy. Use your judgement about how much seasoning you want.
Bring the chicken out of the refrigerator and add the juice of half a lemon. Mix to coat the chicken. Allow the chicken to rest on the counter 30 minutes before you want to grill it, to come to room temperature.
Prepare your grill and proceed as you like, or use a grill pan on the stove top. Turn the heat up to medium-high.
When the grill or grill pan is hot, add the chicken breasts skin side down on a diagonal in the pan or on the grill. Cook for three minutes, then adjust the chicken breasts to the opposite diagonal position and grill for another 3 minutes. Turn the chicken breasts over and grill on the other side following the same procedure as before. After 12 minutes of cooking, If the chicken is not done move the breasts to an indirect heat source on your grill and cook until done. If using a grill pan, turn the heat down to medium and continue to cook until done, about 5 minutes more depending on how big the chicken breasts are. The chicken breasts are done when the juices run clear after being pierced with a fork. Internal temperature is 170°F ( 77°C). Remove from the pan or grill and rest the chicken for 10 -15 minutes. Cool before making sandwiches.
Assemble the Sandwiches
Smear a good coating of the basil mayonnaise (see recipe in notes) on both pieces of bread. Evenly cover one piece of bread with chicken slices, then add one slice of smoked mozzarella, or enough to cover the chicken if your bread slices are large. Layer the sliced avocado over the mozzarella. Add a small handful of arugula to the top and cover with the top piece of bread. If your sandwiches are large, cut in half and wrap in parchment paper or wax paper. Refrigerate until ready to eat or go on your picnic. Pack the sandwiches in an insulated bag with a cold pack or ice to keep cool and fresh for your picnic.
Watermelon Nectarine and Basil Fruit Salad
Mix the fresh lemon juice, honey, and ground chili powder in a small bowl. Keep stirring until the honey is completely dissolved. Taste and add a small pinch of Kosher salt. Set aside.
Add the prepared watermelon and nectarines to a mixing bowl and gently stir to combine. Tear or snip the leaves of the basil and mint over the fruit and mix together. Add the honey lemon dressing and stir. Taste and add more herbs if needed. Place in a plastic container with a tight-fitting lid and keep in an insulated bag with cold pack, or refrigerator. The fruit salad is the last thing to make for your picnic, because fruit releases a lot of juice after it is sliced and with a dressing.
To make the basil mayonnaise, I use a 1 - 1 ratio of mayonnaise to basil sauce. The basil sauce is essentially basil pesto without the cheese and pine nuts. Use your favorite pesto recipe without the grated cheese and pinenuts and mix together 3-4 TB of mayonnaise and 3-4 TB basil sauce until combined.
My general basil pesto recipe is 2 cups (500 ml) of basil leaves, 1 cup (250 ml) arugula or spinach, 1 garlic clove - minced, 1 TB lemon juice, 1/2 tsp kosher salt, and 1/3 (75 ml) to 1/2 cup (125 ml) extra virgin olive oil. In a food processor, process the basil, arugula, garlic, lemon juice, and salt until the basil and arugula are finely minced and combined. Use a thin rubber spatula to scrape everything off the sides of the bowl. With the motor running slowly add in the extra virgin olive oil. You might not use the whole amount. I do not want it too oily or runny so I stop adding the olive oil when I reach a smooth and slightly thick consistency. I do this because I store the pesto in a container with a layer of olive oil over the top of the pesto.
If you want traditional pesto, add 1/2 cup grated roman cheese and 1/4 cup pinenuts before you add the olive oil, and process until smooth. Then add the olive oil. Pesto is best used the same day it is made, but will keep in the refrigerator for a couple of days. Use can freeze pesto without the nuts and cheese, for up to 3 months. Pour a layer of olive oil over the pesto before freezing.
This time of year, I focus my meals around tomatoes and fresh corn. I know soon enough local ripe tomatoes and corn will no longer be available. Every day I enjoy the freshness of a perfect juicy tomato and the sweet crunch of fresh corn. They taste so good and refreshing at peak season. I never get tired of them. This obsession challenges me to create different recipes that include corn and/or tomatoes. One variation I created is a steak salad loaded with summer vegetables. This is a light and refreshing salad with just the right amount of spicy citrus dressing to complement he vegetables and steak.
My focus for the recipe was to use local vegetables and fruit from NY Hudson Valley farms. It turns out, everything but the nectarines were grown in Yorktown by Meadows Farm. This local only focus (with the exception of the citrus salad dressing), is a big change for me because I add avocado to everything, especially salad. Avocado would taste great in this salad too. The salad’s produce ingredients include, yellow and green beans, cucumbers, grape tomatoes, fresh corn, arugula, nectarines and herbs. This whole group of fruit and vegetables pair perfectly with grilled steak. Unfortunately, it did not occur to me until I finished the salad, I could buy my steak locally at Hemlock Hill Farms in Cortland Manor.
This salad does not take long to prepare, but as is typical cooking with fresh produce does require more prep-work. I believe the results are worth it. Each step is done to bring out the bright flavors of fruit and vegetables. What is important to focus on is the timing of adding certain ingredients, and when to cook your steak. To achieve the freshest appearance and taste, slice then add the nectarines and steak just before you are ready to serve. Also tear or snip the herbs at that time as well. The rest of the ingredients are hardier and won’t turn brown when exposed to the air and acid.
I am using a new technique I just learned for dressing a vegetable salad. Instead of whisking all the salad dressing ingredients together in a separate bowl, I mix some, but add the rest directly to the vegetables. The citrus juice, zest, Sriracha, and honey get mixed together so the honey dissolves and is easy to mix. Normally, I would add the vinegar with the citrus, and then the olive oil to the citrus mix. However, I will add these ingredients separately to the prepared vegetables and adjust the amounts as needed.
First, add the vinegar to the vegetables with a pinch of Kosher salt. This step brings out the bright flavors and makes them shine. I was pleasantly surprised when I first tried this technique. I did not taste a strong vinegar flavor. Instead, the vinegar accentuated the natural flavors of the vegetables. How many times have you tasted homemade salad dressing and got hit in the face with an acid punch? It is not the case when you first add vinegar to vegetables. This is also a good lesson showing how adding additional seasonings and dressings change the flavors of the vegetables and fruit.
Joshua McFadden, chef/owner of Ava Gene’s in Portland Oregon, is considered a vegetable whisperer. He describes his salad making techniques in his cookbook, Six Seasons. I got the idea of adding the vinegar first to a salad after reading his book. Using this idea does make fixing a salad more hands on (literally), and the ingredient amounts somewhat vague. If you are just learning to cook, my advice is to start with less amounts of seasoning and dressings. You can always add more, but it is harder to fix over-seasoned and over-dressed food. Get your (clean) hands in there and add, toss and taste. Repeat until you believe it is perfect.
Do you have a local market where you buy your produce? Farmers markets are great, but around here they open one day a week on Saturday or Sunday. Having a local farm stand open six days a week in my hometown is a treat. I shop at big grocery stores as well, which are very convenient. However, I am grateful to live in an area where local farm produce is available to me.
What meal do you make using local and fresh ingredients?
Summer Vegetable Steak Salad with Spicy Citrus Dressing
Prep Time: 39 minutes
Cook Time: 6 minutes
Total Time: 45 minutes
Category: Dinner Salad
An easy summer dinner salad made with grilled steak and seasonal vegetables. You can use any vegetables you wish. I like to pair green beans with steak, so I included them with other local produce that is available in the summer. An avocado is an optional ingredient. If you are using it add it just before serving and sprinkle the pieces with lime juice.
You can also replace the vegetables in this salad with my recipe for Anything Goes Potato Salad .
The amount of time to cook the steak depends on the type of steak you have and how thick your piece is. Steak does not need long to cook over a very hot grill or skillet. Start with two minutes a side for a steak that is one inch thick for rare meat. Thicker steaks are easier to cook properly and get a good sear on them.
1 TB fresh orange juice and zest from half an orange
Juice from one lime, and zest
1 TB honey
2 TB sherry vinegar
1 clove garlic, smashed
1/2 tbs Sriracha
Kosher Salt, to taste
Fresh ground pepper
Summer Vegetable Steak Salad
1 lb green beans, ends trimmed
1 lb (450 g) green beans, if a mix of colors are available use them.
1 ear of fresh corn
1/2 lb (225 g) grape tomatoes
3 oz (40 g) arugula
1 1/2 lbs (750 g) steak, like shell steak, strip steak, or flank steak, your choice
Pinch of Kosher Salt (about 1/2 tbs)
1/2 tbs crushed fennel seed
1/2 tbs ground coriander
1 - 2 nectarines or peaches, sliced into wedges (If using peaches peel them first)
About 5-6 basil leaves
About 6 mint leaves
About 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
More Kosher salt and ground pepper
Prepare the steak
One hour before you cook the steak, remove the steak from the refrigerator and its packaging. Put the steak on a plate and pat them dry with paper towels. Sprinkle Kosher salt, ground coriander and crushed fennel seed over both sides of the steak. Loosely cover the steak with plastic wrap and let it rest on the counter for 30 minutes up to 1 hour.
Spicy Citrus Dressing
Add the orange juice, lime juice, zests, honey, sriracha, a small pinch of Kosher salt, a couple of grinds of ground pepper, and smashed garlic clove to a small bowl. Mix until the honey is dissolved. Cover the bowl with plastic and keep on the counter for later.
Prepare the vegetables
Trim off the ends of the scallions and thinly slice each scallion on a sharp diagonal. Add the scallion slices to a small bowl filled with cold water and ice. Let the scallions macerate in the ice water for 15 minutes.
Husk the corn and cut off the stem piece. Place the bottom of the corn in a mixing bowl and hold onto the tip. With a sharp knife slice off the kernels from the cob. Once the kernels are sliced off, run the back edge of your knife down the cob to press any corn milk out, catch the drippings in your bowl.
Make an ice water bath for the green beans. Fill a large bowl with cold water and ice. Set aside near the stove.
Fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil on the stove. Trim the green beans. When the water boils add a large pinch of salt then the green beans and blanch them for one minute. Remove the green beans from the boiling water and quickly add them to the ice water bath to stop the cooking. When cooled, take the green beans out of the ice bath and dry on a clean kitchen towel. Add the beans to the bowl with the corn.
Cut the grape tomatoes in half and add to bowl.
Add half the arugula. If the leaves are large, tear them in half.
Drain the scallions and dry them, then add to the bowl with the vegetables.
Add the sherry vinegar, a small pinch of Kosher salt and a couple of grinds of black pepper to the vegetables and toss to mix with your clean hands. Taste. You will taste the vinegar, but it will not be harsh. Set aside.
Sear the seasoned steak on a hot grill, grill pan, or skillet. Add about 1 tablespoon of olive oil to your pan or grill. Add the steak and sear for about 2- 3 minutes per side depending on the cut of your steak. My steak was very thin, about an inch, so very little time was needed to cook it. Flank steak will take longer. Aim for rare to medium-rare steak, or how you prefer your steak. The internal temperature for rare steak is 125°F (52°C). Medium-rare is 130 - 135°F (54 - 57°C). Remove the steak from the heat and rest on a carving board, and grind a couple of rounds of fresh pepper over each steak. Let the steak rest for 10 - 15 minutes.
When you are almost ready to eat, cut the bone off the steak (if there is one), and slice on a diagonal and across the grain into thin, 1/4 inch (.5 cm) slices. Drizzle about half of the citrus dressing over your steak slices on the cutting board then drizzle 1 TB of extra virgin olive oil over the steak.
Slice the nectarines and add to the vegetables. Add the remaining arugula. Drizzle the remaining citrus dressing over the vegetables. Toss to coat and taste the vegetables for seasoning. Add more lime juice, sriracha, or other seasonings if needed. Drizzle a couple of tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil over the vegetables and toss to coat. Taste and adjust seasoning to your liking. Tear or snip the herbs over the bowl of the vegetables and toss. Taste and correct seasoning.
I like to serve the steak and vegetables side by side, not all mixed up like a traditional salad. This way if you have any leftover steak, you can store it separately and make steak sandwiches the next day. On a large platter spread out your vegetables and drizzle with olive oil and fresh herbs. Arrange the sliced steak to the side of the vegetables and pour any accumulated juices from the cutting board over the steak. Lightly drizzle some extra virgin olive oil over the steak and a light sprinkle of sea salt flakes if you have them, and fresh ground pepper. Garnish the steak with chopped herbs. If you prefer, mix the vegetables and steak together in a bowl. Taste for seasoning. Serve immediately.