Spiced Figs with Yogurt Panna Cotta

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.

Spiced Figs with Yogurt Panna Cotta recipe
Fresh Mission 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.

Spiced Figs with Yogurt Panna Cotta recipe.

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.

Spiced Figs with Yogurt Panna Cotta recipe.
Figs with blue cheese and chopped walnuts.

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.

Figs and Prosciutto Salad Recipe

Spiced Figs with Yogurt Panna Cotta recipe

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.

 

Spiced Figs with Yogurt Panna Cotta recipe.

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.

Spiced Figs with Yogurt Panna Cotta recipe.

 

Spiced Figs with Yogurt Panna Cotta

Prep Time: 3 hours, 15 minutes

Cook Time: 25 minutes

Total Time: 3 hours, 42 minutes

Category: Dessert

Cuisine: Italian American

6

Serving Size: 1- 4 ounce panna cotta with fruit and syrup

Spiced Figs with Yogurt Panna Cotta

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.

Ingredients

    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
    Spiced Figs
  • 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

Instructions

    Yogurt Panna Cotta
  1. 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.
  2. Add the gelatin and 2 Tb cold water to a small bowl. Let the gelatin rest to soften for 5 minutes.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
    Spiced Figs
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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
  1. 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.
  2. If you are not serving them right away, loosely cover each panna cotta with plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator.
  3. 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.

Notes

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.

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© 2017, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.

Tomato Tart with Ricotta and Mediterranean Seasoning

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.

A tomato tart recipe with ricotta and Mediterranean seasoning.

Tomato tart recipe with ricotta and Mediterranean seasoning.

Tomato tart recipe with ricotta and Mediterranean seasonings

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”.

Tomato Tart recipe with Ricotta and Mediterranean Seasoning

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.

More recipes inspired by Joshua McFadden, Summer Vegetable and Steak Salad. 

Tomato tart recipe with ricotta and Mediterranean seasoning.
Israeli-Spiced Tomatoes with Yogurt and Chickpeas from Six Seasons Cookbook

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.

Tomato Tart recipe with ricotta and Mediterranean spices.

Tomato tart with ricotta and Mediterranean spices.

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.

Tomato Tart recipe with ricotta cheese and Mediterranean spices.

Try this recipe for potato salad with tomatoes and summer vegetables.

Firing up the grill this weekend? Grilled Chicken with Poblano Chili Cream Sauce 

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.

Tomato tart recipe with ricotta cheese and Mediterranean spices.

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.

Tomato Tart recipe with ricotta and Mediterranean spices.

Tomato Tart with ricotta and Mediterranean spices.

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

4-6 servings

Tomato Tart with Ricotta and Mediterranean Seasoning

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.

Ingredients

    Tomato Tart
  • 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)

Instructions

    Walnut Pie Dough - Makes enough for one 9-inch (cm ) single crust pie or galette
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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)
    Tomato Tart
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. Spread the ricotta cheese evenly over the mustard in the tart.
  7. If using , sprinkle a light layer, about 1-2 TB, of Pecorino Romano cheese over the ricotta cheese.
  8. 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.
  9. If using, lightly sprinkle Pecornio Romano cheese over the tomatoes, then drizzle extra virgin olive oil over the tomatoes.
  10. 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.
  11. Remove the tart from the oven and cool on a cooling rack for 20 minutes.
  12. 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.
  13. Serve warm or at room temperature. Best eaten the day it is made.

Notes

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.

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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.

© 2017, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.

Easy Picnic Food Ideas for Late Summer and Fall

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.

Easy picnic food ideas and recipes.

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.

Easy Picnic Food Ideas and recipes
Grilled chicken sandwiches with smoked mozzarella, avocado, arugula and basil mayonnaise.

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.

Easy Picnic Food Ideas and recipes
Muhammara and Artichoke Tapenade

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.

Easy Picnic Food Ideas with recipes
Fruit salad with watermelon, nectarines, herbs, and a spicy lemon honey dressing.

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.

Kitchen Sink Oatmeal Cookies reicpe
Kitchen Sink Cookies
Easy picnic food ideas and recipes.
Ginger Molasses Cookies

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.

Easy Picnic Food Ideas for Summer and Fall and recipes

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 and recipes.

Easy Picnic Food Ideas for Summer and Fall- Grilled Chicken Sandwiches and Watermelon and Nectarine Fruit Salad

Category: Lunch Picnic

Cuisine: American

4 servings

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.

Enjoy your picnic.

Ingredients

    Grilled Chicken Sandwiches
    Grilled Chicken - Prepare the day before
  • 2 boneless skinless chicken breasts (1.5 lbs / 750 g)
  • 1/2 tsp Kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp of garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp of onion powder
  • 1/2 tsp of sweet paprika
  • 1/2 - 1 tsp dried oregano
  • Lemon zest from half a lemon
  • 1 TB extra virgin olive oil
  • Juice of half a lemon
    Grilled Chicken Sandwiches
  • 8 slices of good quality bread
  • About 1/2 cup (125 ml) basil mayo
  • Grilled chicken sliced thin across the grain
  • About 4 oz (125 g) of Smoked Mozzarella, sliced into 1/4-inch thick slices
  • 1-2 avocados cut into thin slices
  • Arugula
    Basil Mayonnaise
  • 1-part mayonnaise
  • 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

Instructions

    Grilled Chicken
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Prepare your grill and proceed as you like, or use a grill pan on the stove top. Turn the heat up to medium-high.
  4. 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
  1. 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
  1. 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.
  2. 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.

Notes

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.

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Where is your favorite place to picnic? Please share in the comment section below.

© 2017, Ginger Smith- Lemon Thyme and Ginger. All rights reserved.

Almond Cherry Peach Galette

In the Hudson Valley, the month of August produces the crown jewels of the summer produce. At last, local tomatoes, corn and peaches are ready for picking. At last. It feels like I waited all summer for this event and now it is peach picking time. I am now ready to taste and cook peaches from every orchard in the Hudson Valley. First baking item on the agenda from this August bounty, is a peach galette.

Almond Peach Galette Recipe

Almond Peach Galette recipe

Almond Peach Galette Recipe

Almond Peach Galette Recipe

I love making galettes. There is less pressure making a galette, because simplicity is the appeal. A pie made with a fancy decorative crust is stunning to look at, but I will save those for the holidays. For my day-to-day dessert, galettes fit the bill. There is more fruit to crust ratio in a galette, but it still has a crispy buttery crust to contrast with the tender fruit filling.

For this recipe, I scaled up the preparation a degree to produce a galette with a tender crispy crust with no soggy bottom, and enable the galette to keep its shape. To do this, I chill the galette dough at three different steps. First, I chill the dough right after I make it. Later, I chill the dough after I finish rolling it into a circle. The third and final chill happens after I fill the galette with fruit and shape it. This last step, is not a typical one, nor is it necessary, but it helps the galette keep its shape when baking and creates a flaky crust. Each time the dough is chilled, the gluten in the dough relaxes and the butter stays cold.

Almond Peach Galette Recipe

Almond Peach Galette Recipe

Another upgrade is, I added a layer of almond paste to my traditional fruit galette recipe. The almond paste has two purposes, add extra depth of nutty flavor to the peaches, and create a barrier between the fruit and the dough. This protective layer prevents the fruit juices from soaking the crust and making it soggy. There is nothing worse than a soggy bottom galette or pie.

I thinned the almond paste with dark rum so it will spread easily across the dough. Almonds and rum pair perfectly with the peaches and cherries and makes the peach galette have more depth of flavor. The almond paste does not overwhelm the peaches because the rum balances the flavor with notes of caramel and warmth. Look for almond paste in the baking aisle of your grocery store. If you do not like nuts, or are allergic to them, omit the almond paste and baste a layer of egg wash over the crust before you add the fruit.

Almond Peach Galette Recipe

Almond Peach Galette Recipe

One last upgrade I added is a trick I learned from The Art of Pie, by Kate McDermott. Before placing the fruit filling over the galette dough, drain the fruit juices into a bowl, then reduce the juice in a sauce pan on the stove. Not only does this step lessen the amount of fruit juices, but it concentrates the flavor as well. Each peach galette I made this summer, the peaches had a lot of juice. I never can tell how much fruit juice there will be. This extra step is not necessary, because the cornstarch will thicken up the juices, but it won’t hurt either.

Almond Peach Galette Recipe

Almond Peach Galette Recipe

This summer I learned something new about the different types of peaches. I am a little embarrassed about this discovery, but I always thought the “cling” of cling peaches, is just a name, like a Granny Smith apple. However, I learned “cling” has specific meaning and it’s obvious, duh, and I feel stupid for not realizing this earlier. There are two types of peaches with many variations of each type, cling peaches and free stone peaches.  A cling peach, is a peach with its flesh tightly attached to the pit. The peach clings to the stone. A free stone peach, the peach flesh is not attached to the pit. The peach is free from the stone and easy to cut a peach in half and pull it apart. When I read this, I gave myself a whack on the forehead. Duh! Why did I not realize this before?

Almond Peach Galette Recipe

I always believed when peach flesh sticks to the pit, it means the peach is not completely ripe. Actually, I never heard the name free stone peach until this project. In my defense, it is possible I never ate a free stone peach before, but I would love to find some. Prying the flesh of cling peaches away from their pits is slippery and challenging. I get concerned about cutting my hand with my knife, and/or squish the peaches from gripping them to stay in place.

These additional steps take some time, but they create a delicious peach galette. One that is rich and bright in flavor from the almonds, peaches and cherries, with a crispy all butter crust. Keep these additional steps in your back pocket and use when you wish to up your galette making skills. Time is the unwritten ingredient for this recipe, but it is an important one to make a great crust.

Almond Peach Galette Recipe

Almond Cherry Peach Galette

Prep Time: 3 hours

Cook Time: 45 minutes

Total Time: 3 hours, 45 minutes

Category: Dessert

Cuisine: French

8 servings

Almond Cherry Peach Galette

The rich almond paste and tart cherries compliment the sweet flavor of fresh peaches. Extra steps are taken in this recipe to create a light and flaky all butter crust. The almond paste creates a barrier over the dough so the fruit won’t make it soggy. If you are not a fan of nuts, the galette will still taste delicious without the almond paste.

You can substitute the peaches with any stone fruit, like nectarines, plums or apricots, but keep in mind you will need about 1 1/2 lbs - 2 lbs (1 K k) of fruit. Peaches should be peeled, but nectarines, apricots or plums do not. I love peaches and cherries, but feel free to substitute with some berries if you prefer. The berries will add more liquid to the galette.

When you make this, just make sure you plan ahead. I added up the 3 different times the dough needs to chill in the prep time section. So, most of the prep is unattended. Often, I make the dough the night before to ease up on the time needed the day of baking the galette.

Ingredients

    Pie Dough
  • 1 cup (142 g / 5 oz) all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup (66 g / 2 1/4 oz) whole wheat pastry flour
  • 2 TB extra fine sugar (castor sugar)
  • 1 small pinch of Kosher salt
  • 6 TB (86 g / 3 oz) cold unsalted butter
  • 5 TB ice water
    Almond Peach Filling
  • 3.5 oz (101 g) almond paste
  • 2 TB dark rum
  • 12 raw almonds, lightly toasted and finely chopped
  • 1 1/2 - 2 lb (750 g - 1 k) ripe peaches
  • 1/2 cup (110 g) granulated sugar
  • 2 TB corn starch
  • Zest from 1 lemon
  • 1 TB fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/2 tea fresh grated nutmeg (a small pinch if you are using store bought ground nutmeg)
  • 12 -15 (150 g) fresh cherries, pitted and sliced in half
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • Course Sugar
  • 1 TB butter

Instructions

    Make the pie dough
  1. Cut the butter into small cubes. Place in a small bowl and keep in the refrigerator until needed.
  2. In a medium bowl mix the all-purpose flour and the whole wheat pastry flour together with a fork or whisk, until evenly mixed. Add the salt and sugar, and whisk again until evenly combined.
  3. Add the pieces of butter to the flour and toss the butter lightly with your hands to get the butter coated with flour. Mix the butter into the flour with your hands by smushing the butter between your fingertips. You don't want your hands getting too hot and melt the butter, so handle the butter as quickly as possible. Continue mixing the butter until the mixture looks like course meal with irregular pieces of butter throughout.
  4. Add the ice water to the flour. Start with 3 TB of water and mix carefully with your hands without too much action. If the dough is dry add 2 TB of water and barely mix with your hands until it almost comes together.
  5. Dump the dough onto a clean counter and bring the dough together. Shape into a flat disk, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour or longer. The dough can be made ahead and kept tightly covered in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.
    Almond Peach Filling
  1. Pit the cherries and cut in half, then set aside.
  2. In a small bowl, mix the almond paste with the rum until it becomes a spreadable paste. Add the chopped nuts and mix. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside.
  3. Fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil. Make an ice bath. Fill a large bowl with ice cubes and cold water. Set aside near your pot on the stove.
  4. Score the peaches by lightly cutting an X across the bottom end of each peach. Only cut through the skin and not deep into the flesh. Add the peaches to the big pot of just boiling water and cook for one minute. Remove them from the hot water, then add the peaches to the ice water bath to stop the cooking process and cool. Peel off the skin when they are cool enough to handle. If the peaches are ripe, the skin should easily peel off. Make a cut all around the peach to cut it in half. If you have free stone peaches twist the halves and they should easily come apart. If you have cling peaches, cut another slice around the peaches to divide the peach into 4 sections. Carefully slice your knife into the peach and around the pit until a wedge is free. Repeat for the remaining sections. Be very careful removing the pit from cling peaches. Peeled peaches are very slippery and it is easy for your hands or knife to slip. A paring knife with a thin flexible blade is the best tool.
  5. Slice the peaches into 1/4 inch - 1/2 inch (.5 - 1 cm) wedges, and add them to a large mixing bowl.
  6. Add the sugar, lemon juice, lemon zest and grated nutmeg to the peaches and gently toss to get the sugar thoroughly mixed with the peaches. If you find there is a lot of juice, drain the peach juice from the peaches using a fine mesh strainer set over a bowl to collect the juices. Pour the peach juices in a small sauce pan and turn the heat to medium-high on the stove. Return the peaches to their bowl. Reduce the peach juice by half. Add the cornstarch and reduced juice to the peaches and mix. The reduced liquid will harden but that is all right. It will melt in the oven. Set aside.
    Putting it altogether
  1. Preheat your oven at 400°F one hour before you want to bake your galette. If you have one, place a baking stone or baking steel on the rack in the middle of the oven. If not place a large sheet pan, rim side down on the oven rack. It will act like a baking stone and create a hot surface for the galette crust to get crisp.
  2. Cover a rimmed sheet pan, large enough to hold a 10-inch (25 cm) galette, with parchment paper. Set aside.
  3. Take the galette dough out of the refrigerator and rest it on the counter for 10 minutes. Lightly sprinkle flour over your clean work surface and unwrap your dough. Lightly flour your rolling pin and give your dough a few good whacks with the pin to soften it up. Turn over the dough and repeat. Repeat whacking the dough several turns to help shape the dough in a circle and thin it out.
  4. Roll the dough into a 12 inch (30.5 cm) circle. Start with the pin across the middle of the dough and roll the pin away from you. Return the pin to the middle and roll the pin towards you. Turn your galette dough 1/8th turn and repeat, rolling the dough, starting each time at the middle of the dough and roll once away, then once toward you. Repeat until you have a circle about 12- inches (30.5 cm) across and 1/4-inch (.33 - .5 cm) thick. You should get a nice shaped circle with this method. If the dough needs thinning and shaping, move your pin over to those areas roll the pin in one direction at a time.
  5. Transfer your finished galette dough to your prepared sheet pan. Place your rolling pin across the middle of your pie dough, and drape the top half of the dough over the pin towards you. Lift the pin and place it across the middle of your sheet pan and arrange the galette dough flat on the baking sheet. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes to an hour.
  6. Assemble the galette. Place the baking sheet with the chilled galette dough on your counter. Spread the prepared almond paste across the middle of the galette dough making a circle about 9 inches (23 cm) across. Add the peaches to the galette dough by one of two methods. One- carefully arrange the peach slices in a circle around the dough, beginning 2-3 inches from the edge of the dough. Make and fill a circle with the peach slices. Make sure you overlap the slices because they will separate while baking. Add the pitted cherries into pockets of the peaches any which way you want. Or, two- add the cherries to the bowl with the peaches and dump the fruit in the center of the galette dough. Smooth the peaches out to make a nice mound over the almond paste.
  7. Fold the edge of the dough over the fruit and pleat and pinch the folds together, creating a nice and neat package.
  8. Chill the galette for 30 minutes, loosely covered with plastic wrap. This will help the galette dough keep its shape. Or, bake right away but the galette might open slightly.
  9. Just before baking, baste the folded galette dough with an egg wash, and sprinkle the dough with the course or granulated sugar. Brush away any loose sugar from the galette on the baking sheet. Scatter pieces of the butter over the peaches and sprinkle with some more sugar.
  10. Place the baking sheet with the galette in the oven and bake for 40 - 45 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown and the juices are vigorously bubbling.
  11. Remove the baking sheet with the galette from the oven and set on a cooling rack to cool. Galettes should be set and completely cooled before eating. This can take a couple of hours. When completely cooled, carefully slide the galette onto your serving plate using the parchment paper to help you. If you have any leakage, run a large spatula or knife, under the galette to loosen any stuck sections.
  12. Serve room temperature.
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Zucchini Fritters 4 Ways

I am just going to pretend that the summer is not fading away, but is in full swing in all its glory. It is difficult to believe that September is a month away when summer squash, corn, tomatoes, cucumbers, stone fruit, fresh herbs, and green beans are now ripening at a sprinters pace. This time of year is wonderful, with many sunny days and cooler nights, but I am not ready for fall to be around the corner. I want summer to last, as it is my favorite season.

Zucchini Fritters 4 Ways, recipe

Over this past month, I wanted to make zucchini fritters. This obsession came out of the blue. Maybe because I always wanted to make them, but never got around to do it. I like all kinds of fritters. They are fun tasting with less filler than cakes. Making fritters is like producing a solo play with just enough supporting acts to hold the production together. For this production zucchini is the star attraction with just the right amount of extra ingredients to keep its shape.

Zucchini Fritters 4 Ways, recipe.

Zucchini Fritters 4 Ways, recipe.

Zucchini Fritters 4 Ways recipe

I never made fritters before, and wanted to make some that are different from the traditional zucchini pancakes I am familiar with.  After some searching, I found a fritter recipe with a southwestern take on a Mediterranean classic, zucchini fritters with cheddar cheese and oregano by Deborah Madison.  This recipe is from her latest cookbook, In My Kitchen, (Ten Speed Press 2017). She is one of my favorite cookbook authors and is a valuable resource for me. If you need a good vegetarian cookbook, anyone of her books are a great choices. I believe she helped change vegetarian cooking from its cardboard tasting roots in the 1970’s, to the lively and fresh cuisine it is today.

Her zucchini fritters are different. Besides using non traditional ingredients, she slices the zucchini into thin coins instead of grating them. They look beautiful and unmistakable for what they are. The zucchini slices are visible and overlap each other to form a cake with flecks of fresh herbs and clusters of crunchy cheese and bread crumbs mixed in.

Zucchini Fritters 4 Ways recipe.

I found it a little more challenging to shape each pancake, but it is worth the effort. Honestly, I am not sure how Deborah Madison artfully formed her fritters. She did not include instructions describing her process in the recipe. The several times I made them, I did the best I could with what I knew. If the thought of shaping these fritters intimidates you, please put the thought out of your head. This is your meal, shape your fritters anyway you want. Scooping up batter with a spoon and sliding the batter in the skillet works just as well. Yet please take Deborah Madison’s advice, do not apologize if they don’t turn out the way you want. You just made a homemade meal. No apologies are necessary.  They might not look how you hoped, but they will still taste great.

More zucchini recipes: Zucchini Fritatta, Zucchini and Corn Salad with Avocado and Pistachios, Marinated Zucchini

Zucchini Fritters 4 Ways recipe.

I made some changes to her recipe. First, she uses fresh oregano and a lot of it. It was too much oregano for me, (which is hard to believe because I am always adding more fresh herbs than a recipes calls for). Also oregano can get very bitter, so it is not one of my favorites. I replaced the oregano with basil. I love basil with zucchini and it worked with the cheddar. Feel free to experiment with other herbs you like, and if you love oregano, go for it.

Zucchini Fritters 4 Ways recipe.

Zucchini Fritter 4 Ways recipe.

Other variations included corn meal and corn flour independently, instead of bread crumbs. I love zucchini and corn together and experimented with corn meal to see how it would taste and work. The corn meal is grittier and does not absorb the liquid as well as bread crumbs and corn flour do. In the photograph above showing zucchini arranged on a slotted spatula, the batter was too thin. To absorb the extra juices, adding more cornmeal would give the batter more heft. Keep experimenting and see how you like it. Each option provided has its merits and I liked the taste of all of them. The breadcrumbs and corn meal had similar textures, and the corn flour made the fritter more pancake like.

Zucchini Fritters 4 Ways
  1. Follow the recipe for Zucchini fritters made with basil, cheddar and breadcrumbs.
  2. Substitute the bread crumbs with the same amount of corn meal or corn flour. (gluten-free option)
  3. Make the recipe but substitute the cheddar cheese with Comté or Emmenthal (Swiss), or Gruyère Cheese. Use bread crumbs with this cheese substitution.
  4. Make a traditional zucchini fritter and substitute the basil with dill, and the cheddar with feta cheese. Add some lemon zest as well.

With all these different variations, you can make zucchini fritters for days and use up your abundant supply of zucchini before the summer is over.

Serve the cheddar basil zucchini fritter as a vegetable side dish, or an appetizer with tomatillo salsa and yogurt. They are also delicious paired with a sauce of parsley and capers.

Zucchini Fritter 4 Ways, recipe.

Zucchini Fritters 4 Ways

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 35 minutes

Total Time: 45 minutes

Category: Vegetable Side Dish or Appetizer

Cuisine: American

9-10 Zucchini Fritters

Serving Size: One - Two Fritters per person

Zucchini Fritters 4 Ways

A Mediterranean classic given a Southwest twist. These zucchini fritters are filled with slices of fresh summer squash, cheddar cheese and fresh basil. They are light with a delicate bite of sweet zucchini and fresh herbs. The cheddar cheese is subtle and does not over power the fresh vegetables.

For more variations, substitute the bread crumbs with corn meal or corn flour. You can also substitute the cheddar with any cheese, like Swiss, Gruyere or Comte. To make a traditional Mediterranean zucchini fritter, substitute the basil with fresh dill and replace the cheddar cheese with feta cheese. Follow the same steps in the recipe.

This recipe is slightly adapted from Deborah Madison recipe in, In My Kitchen, (Ten Speed Press, 2017).

Ingredients

  • 1 TB olive oil
  • 1 lb zucchini
  • 1 large shallot, thinly sliced
  • Kosher Salt
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 - 1 cup bread crumbs, or corn meal, or corn flour
  • 1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese
  • 1/3 cup chopped basil
  • 3 TB chopped parsley
  • 1 -2 TB olive oil for cooking

Instructions

    Prepare the Zucchini.
  1. Evenly and thinly slice the zucchini into coins. If you have a mandoline this will make your job quite easy. No more than a quarter inch. Heat up 1 TB of olive oil in a large 10 or 12-inch skillet. Add the zucchini coins and sliced shallots and a small pinch of Kosher salt to the skillet, then stir to get an even coat of olive oil over the vegetables. Cook the zucchini over medium heat and occasionally stir them in the skillet until the slices are tender, but still have some firmness in them, and starting to look dry. (No liquid in the pan). This could take around 15 minutes depending on how thick your zucchini slices are and how hot your pan is. When done, turn off the heat.
  2. While the zucchini is cooking, chop the herbs and get the batter ready.
  3. Mix the eggs and 1/2 cup bread crumbs (or corn meal if using) until well combined. Add the grated cheese and chopped herbs to the egg mixture and mix. Add the cooked zucchini to the batter and gently stir to combine without breaking up the zucchini slices. Add more bread crumbs or cornmeal if the batter is too wet.
    Make the Fritters
  1. Heat 1 TB olive oil in a large skillet
  2. Preheat oven to 200°F and place a baking sheet or oven proof plate in the oven.
  3. Test to see if the skillet is hot enough by adding a teaspoonful of the batter to the pan. If the batter immediately sizzles, then the pan is ready. Finish cooking your sample then taste for seasoning. Correct with salt if needed.
  4. Shape and slide one fritter at a time into the skillet. I like the fritters to look somewhat flat with the zucchini slices spread out and overlapping each other. Not mushed up. I scooped up the zucchini batter with a slotted spatula or spoon, then spread out the zucchini slices to make an even pancake. Once formed, slide your arranged fritter into the skillet. I used a rubber spatula or wooden spoon to encourage the fritter to slide off the spatula into the skillet in one piece. For each batch, 3 fritters fit comfortably into a 10-inch skillet. Patiently cook the zucchini fritters on one side for a couple of minutes, until it starts to get golden on the bottom. You want to handle them as little as possible, so flip them one time during the cooking process. With a thin flexible spatula, like a fish spatula, turn the fritter over and cook for a couple of minutes more. Move the finished zucchini fritters to the oven to keep warm. Repeat until all the batter is used.
  5. Serve immediately as an appetizer or side dish with tomatilla salsa and yogurt or creme fraiche. Or, serve with parsley caper sauce.

Notes

I have made these fritters with bread crumbs, as the original recipe indicates, and also with corn meal and corn flour. The corn meal does not absorb the juices as well as the bread crumbs, but do add a nice texture and subtle flavor. You can add more of the filler if there is extra liquid in the bowl, or just let the juices drain out the bottom of the slotted spatula before you add the fritter to the skillet. Any of the three options work well. The corn flour will make the fritter more pancake like.

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