Roasted tomatoes seem to always be lurking in my kitchen. I use them in soups, tuck them into panini and top them on bruschetta. They are both sweet and savory and can be used in a myriad of dishes. The beauty of this recipe is your tomatoes don’t have to be ripe to end up with gorgeous roasted ‘maters. My experience with grocery store tomatoes, and sometimes even the ones purchased at farmer’s markets, is a usually a huge disappointment. No flavor and a dry, mealy texture is the norm today. This recipe forgives the gassed tomato and the farmer that dared tout his product as “vine ripe from the farm”. Let me make clear though, nothing, but nothing, will save the rock hard, pale pink fruit if it is carted to market before it’s time.
But your average grocery store tomato will sing when prepared this way. I serve it as a side along side other vegetable dishes and my family is happy, happy. Any leftovers are roughly chopped and made into soup or bruschetta. The flavors ripen with a bit of time so the following day these roasted tomatoes are sublime…warm, hot or cold. They’re great on homemade pizza, in omelets and salads. Juicy and full of flavor, they pair well with grilled beef and fish, as well as grilled zucchini and stuffed into grilled portobello mushrooms. Over pasta? You’ll think you died and went to heaven. I hope you try these. So good and so easy!
Slice tomatoes lengthwise in half, slice out the core if you wish. I leave it as it softens and sweetens as it roasts.
Hold one half over the sink, cut side up and run your index finger through the tomato sections, scooping out and discarding the seeds and finish by placing in a large bowl. Continue until all the tomato halves have been seeded. Set aside.
In a small bowl combine garlic, thyme, salt and pepper and olive oil and mix well.
Pour the garlic mixture over the seeded tomatoes and, using your hands, toss well making certain the garlic and herbs cover all surfaces of the seeded tomatoes.
Line a rimmed baking sheet with tin foil and cover with non-stick spray.
Place the tomatoes cut side up on the baking sheet. Pour any garlic-olive oil mixture over the tomato halves and scatter the fresh thyme sprigs randomly over the tomatoes.
Bake 45-55 minutes.
Serve immediately or cool completely, store in an airtight container and refrigerate.
I have always hated broccoli. The smell of it cooking made me gag. My older sister, Cynthia, felt exactly the same and to this day we both run at the mere sight of broccoli on the stove. As little girls we sometimes fought like cats and dogs but, regarding broccoli, we were always in agreement. It did not go unnoticed by the two of us that Puerto Ricans didn’t embrace vegetables; red beans and rice, sliced tomatoes and avocados were the only vegetables to grace our grandparents’ dining room table. Our summers on the island were stress free and complete indulgence. It was during one of our summer sojourns our neighbors, Don Juan and Dona Angelita Orta, issued an invitation to dine with them that evening. It was understood the summons was for Cynthia; I was not included. I believe we were around the ages of eight and six and, regrettably, I was sassy, impulsive, unconcerned with hygiene and may have had a slight tendency to lie. It goes without saying, Cynthia was the golden grandchild and I was the disgraced, six year old ne’er-do-well. And Cynthia took full advantage. She made certain I overheard her discussing which of our matching dresses she should wear. Seething with impotent anger and pea green with jealousy I retreated to our bedroom. I’d rather loll on my bed, stare at the ceiling and let the mosquitos bite me than endure her smug and simpering side eyes. Late in the afternoon she was bathed, her hair brushed until it shone like mahogany and she was dressed in one of her many party dresses. I remained on my bed…most certainly smelling like a child who had spent the morning playing outside in the heat of the day and most definitely with the attitude of a defiant, petulant schoolgirl. The time came for her to leave and while she ran a hairbrush one last time through her hair and told me goodbye, I replied with a hateful hiss, “I hope they serve you broccoli! Lots of it.” She blanched at my comment knowing if they did, she would be obliged to eat it. And eat it with a smile on her face. Good manners are everything. I didn’t look at her nor did I say goodbye as she left the house escorted by one of my aunts. My nasty outburst had been heard by my family but seeing how dejected I looked and how low I felt, they said not a word and left me alone. I stayed on that bed sulking, allowing the occasional mosquito to whine past my ear before finishing it off with a fast slap of my hand, for once not feeling satisfaction after the kill. The phone rang in the other room and, after a moment or two, quick footsteps were heard. “Alicia, levantate!” “Alicia, get up!” “The invitation was for both of you!” My heart soared…then quickly filled with fear and apprehension. “Titi, do you think they’ll serve us broccoli?”, I asked as I was hastily bathed. I didn’t want to go next door where I knew, in my heart of hearts, we would be served a gleaming platter of emerald-green nasty. Off I went dressed to match Cynthia, little white socks and Mary Janes on, not ready to face my comeuppance or eat humble pie in the shape of, gag me, the dreaded cruciferous known as broccoli. The Orta’s housekeeper, Tata, whom I adored, answered the door. I was welcomed with unconditional love from all. And broccoli was not served. I learned my lesson, though. Hence forth I have tried to wish others well and, yes, over the years there have been many, many lapses in my thoughts and behavior but I will keep on trying!
I only eat broccoli raw but I love it and this is one of my favorite ways to have it. This salad is both sweet and savory; the carrots and dried cherries lend sweetness, the bacon and scallions are savory and while the toasted almonds provide a flavor link. It needs no time to marinate, however, is equally delicious served the following day. Cranberries may be substituted for the dried cherries although I feel the cherries bring much more flavor to the dish. I cook my bacon in the oven. The oven baked method is time-saving and clean up is a snap. I rough chop almonds, cut about into thirds, then roast them in the oven. I find I scorch too many nuts pan roasting them. This salad may be served as a side dish or entrée but, regardless how it’s served, it will make a broccoli lover out of all!
Y’all ever been in the South on a Sunday? Anywhere south of the Mason-Dixon line? Because Sunday in the South means church, church clothes, (NO tank tops, flip-flops or shorts!), and relaxing with family over dish after well prepared dish of southern classics. When I was in school in Macon I was stunned by the array of vegetable dishes offered in friends homes not to mention the platters of fried chicken, smothered chicken, baked ham, roasted turkey or tenderloin of beef. Remember, Mama couldn’t and didn’t cook so in our house, growing up, Sundays meant a gorgeous table laid with glistening silver and china, beautifully arranged flowers and burnt food. Yep. Mama would serve food that was completely black and burned on one side. She’d just plate that zucchini, chicken, dolphin, anything charcoal side down and keep on keepin’ on. As a result, my time spent in girlfriends houses was filled with awe and wonder. Not because they had beautifully appointed homes. Heck, no. I had that! It was that I was continually astonished at the culinary epiphanies that hit me round every corner. Strawberry jam, BUTTER, fried chicken, iced tea…grilled cheese sandwiches. And Sundays in a Southern home meant side boards groaning under the weight of every vegetable imaginable, at least six or seven, and that didn’t include the biscuits and desserts. Most Sunday dinners included squash casserole and I soon learned there are good ones and there are bad ones, however, that is completely subjective. Some featured thick rounds of squash glistening with butter, the seeds leering back at me as if to remind me of Mama’s blackened attempts of zucchini and summer squash. Ugh. Her squash was the definition of gross. I must tell you, though, there is another method of preparing squash casserole which requires you to process the cooked squash mixture and the outcome is pure magic. Smooth but still with texture this summer squash casserole doesn’t even taste like a vegetable. Yes, the squash is sweet but the addition of onions and pepper-jack cheese gives it a savory, piquant twist you will positively love. It’s the only way I’ll eat summer squash. My hope is the next time you put out a big, Southern-style spread replete with English peas, black-eyed peas with snaps, collard greens with pot likker, candied sweet potatoes, tomato aspic, stewed okra and tomatoes, sweet and sour red cabbage and fresh shelled lady peas you’ll consider serving this glorious summer squash casserole.
1 cup plain Greek yoghurt, or any plain, thick yoghurt
8 ounces pepper-jack cheese, grated
salt and pepper to taste
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup Panko bread crumbs
1 teaspoon olive oil
Pre-heat oven to 350°.
In a large skillet heat the olive oil over medium heat and add the chopped onion. Cook until clear but not browned.
Add the chopped squash and gently stir to coat with the oil and onions. Adjust the heat if needed so as to cook the squash but not to brown. Stir occasionally for the squash to cook evenly and for the juices to evaporate or cook off. You don’t want any liquid as that will cause the casserole to be watery. Cooking the squash may take as long as 15 minutes. That’s fine. Get rid of the water.
Remove the pan from the heat and allow to cool 10-15 minutes.
While the squash is cooling mix the Panko with the teaspoon of olive oil and toss well that all the crumbs are covered. Set aside.
Transfer the squash to a food processor or blender and pulse until there are no lumps or large pieces of squash. Return squash to pan.
To the squash add the yoghurt and cheese and mix thoroughly by hand. Taste for salt and pepper.
Add the eggs and wine and stir well.
Pour the mixture into a greased 9 X 13 pan. Scatter Panko crumbs evenly over top.
Bake for 35-45 minutes or until golden brown on top.
Here’s a little quickie to help you take a stand against temptation this weekend. Wait. Are you really going to pretend you’re not going to be tempted? C’mon. We’re all going to brunch. We’ll all have a couple of mimosas at home then maybe move on to bloodies once we arrive at the restaurant. Oftentimes it’s downhill from there. Plates appear dripping with crunchy, smokey bacon shyly peaking out from under the heavy drip of a lemony hollandaise and a small mountain of crispy, oniony hash browned potatoes…who can resist? And then there’s that guy. You know the one. He orders the thick-cut, maple, cinnamon, praline, cream cheese stuffed french toast. With extra butter and syrup on the side. Ugh. Kill me now! It’s got to taste beyond heavenly. But guess what? I didn’t work all week at feeling good and looking good to blow it all BEFORE I get to brunch. I exercise five days a week. And I try hard to have my cocktails only on the weekend. Yes, I watch what I eat but I indulge myself regularly with healthful treats. So no. I won’t be blowing it at brunch either. Preparation is half the battle and I, for one, will.be.prepared. Oh, yes. I think treating yourself well during the week makes a huge difference in health, weight loss and mind-set and that includes breakfast Saturday mornings. If brunch is on Sunday then errands are on Saturday, meaning fuel up for another long day. My family LOVES roasted spaghetti squash so I typically have it on hand. What better way to make “hash browns” than with leftover, roasted spaghetti squash? Great texture and mild taste make it the perfect side. Simple as A-B-C and topped with a fresh, organic egg, Saturday’s looking better already. A little tomato or leftover vegetables on the side and you may find yourself looking forward to “errand day”. And by having this luxurious breakfast I find I have more resolve at Sunday brunch. The frittata of the day with an extra side of salad sounds really good to me…why, yes, please, I’d love another bloody!
Okay, I have to make an admission here. The reason the photo above doesn’t really show the squash hash browns is because I ate it all before I realized I hadn’t taken any final shots. I’m crazy about this stuff. Spaghetti squash is the healthful, fabulous, take-on-any-flavor food of the year. Already roasted and added to a hot pan with a little oil? Well, you’re just about to have a bit of heaven on earth! One pan. Quick and easy. Fried, poached, scrambled or hard-boiled, eggs pair beautifully with it. If you don’t do eggs heat up those leftover vegetables from the night before, in the same pan with the squash, add another touch of oil and you’ll have a meal from an elegant restaurant. These breakfast hacks will help keep your waistline intact and leaving you feeling good. GOOD. How many times have you felt light AND full after eating a plateful of potatoes?
In Puerto Rico if pork is king, and by the way it is, then the prince would have to be the exquisite plantain…in all its forms. Plantains can be boiled, baked or fried. They can be mashed, shredded or creamed. Green or ripe, the starchy member of the banana family is a favorite through out the Latin Caribbean and is used in a myriad of dishes including stuffed into many a Puerto Rican Thanksgiving turkey! Although its roots hail from Africa, the plantain immigrated and laid down permanent roots in Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Jamaica, Colombia, Peru through to the Amazon region. To say plantains are wildly popular in these places is an understatement. Mofongo is made from fried green plantains which are then mashed in a mortar and pestle with fresh garlic, salt and olive oil. It can be served alone or with crispy pork cracklins mashed in. Often a well is fashioned in the middle of the mofongo mass and spicy shrimp or lobster or savory chicken or pork chunks are stuffed in. A small bowl of homemade chicken broth is served on the side to wet the dish. It’s crazy good! We NEVER had mofongo at my grandparent’s house in Puerto Rico. Every once in a blue moon my grandmother would prepare tostones for us, which are like flat, round plantain fries; crunchy and salty on the outside, earthy and almost creamy in the middle. But mofongo? Uh uh. Not in our house. Even so, when I lived in Puerto Rico as a young girl in her 20’s, I discovered the glory and wonder of the mashed plantain at the beach with friends. Mofongo is made all over the island but is especially good at the beach.
A good number of beaches boast kiosks which sell all manner of local island fare and are known for their mouth-watering dishes, mofongo being one of them. I remember my first bowl was stuffed with local crab. One bite and I was head over heels in love. You’ll often here laughter when crabs are discussed on the island. Local crabs are sometimes fed by hand and almost raised as family pets. The incredible sweetness of the meat will convince you as to the love of local seafood. Often at these kiosks when seafood is ordered, the person who is preparing your meal in front of you will mention in passing, “You’ll love these little fried fish! They come from the waters a couple of miles down the road. You can’t get them anywhere else on the island.” Rum and rum drinks are sold with a smile to anyone old enough to order. The beat of salsa and reggaeton spills down the beach. Gorgeous girls stroll up and down the beach and, as in so many post-colonial territories, they walk hand-in-hand or arm-in-arm, as sisters would. The water is almost always clear as an aquamarine… you’ll want to stay all day… with two fingers of local rum and a bowl of mofongo. Buen Provecho!
When you go to the store make certain you purchase plantains and not green sweet bananas. You cannot peel and eat green plantains raw. Notice in the photo above plantains have three or four, sometimes five ridges or sides running up and down the plantains. A small paring knife is all you need to score each ridge from top to bottom to make peeling easy. Use your finger or the paring knife to ease under the peel, separating the skin from the plantain. Work from section to section. Cut the plantains in 1″-1 1/2″ pieces and drop into a bowl with water that has been salted, 2-3 tablespoons of salt will do. After 15 minutes, drain, dry and set aside.
While the vegetable oil is heating up in your frying pan, crush the garlic and salt together in a mortar and pestle to make a smooth paste. Set aside.
Pour vegetable in a large frying pan over medium heat. When hot carefully place as many plantain pieces in pan as will fit, cut sides up and down and fry for 7 minutes. You don’t want to brown them just cook them so adjust the temperature accordingly. After the first 7 minutes turn the plantains over and fry for another 7 minutes. Drain on paper towels and fry the remaining pieces the same way; 7 minutes on each side. While the last plantains are frying take 3-4 of the cooked, drained pieces and drop into the garlic-salt mixture in the mortar. Using the pestle, crush the cooked plantains to make a fairly smooth mash. Add 1-2 tablespoons of good olive oil and salt to taste to each batch of mashed plantains. Leave the mash in the mortar as you add more and more chunks of plantains. Work quickly while the fried plantains are warm so they absorb the flavors of the salt, garlic and olive oil. Continue until all plantain pieces have been fried and mashed. Serve immediately or as soon as you can.
After a night of clubbing, dancing and partying, nothing is more welcome than a plate of straightforward carbs. Throw some high quality fat in the mix and we’ll be good to go. Rosti, or Swiss potato cake is it. I used to keep a large boiled potato in the refrigerator and prepare it all the time. It seem like hundreds of years ago when I lived in Atlanta, that I would eventually make my way home at the end of some crazy night… well, you get the picture. I got in late, okay? I had a few different apartments during that time, each one lovely and charming with its own mind bending fusion of quirky, funky and downright bizarre neighbors. One place was on Frederica Street, affectionately called “Fred” by my cronies and me, perched at the top of a hill. This is back when Atlanta still had character, color and stories were being made. It was some kinda fast livin’. Anyway, across the street from my apartment lived the scariest looking guy you ever did see in what little kids would have called a haunted house if a child had ever walked down the street and seen the house. Falling apart from top to bottom, it looked as though it should have been condemned. Old tires, cement blocks and general crap was thrown anywhere and everywhere. A few of the windows had been covered with tin foil. It was dark and menacing, the cheap curtains hung on the remaining windows were always drawn and the flickering blue of a television set was the only light at night casting eerie shadows on his already freaky looking property. Creepy. Every now and again my neighbor friends, Lee and Desiree, and I would see a big, hefty man emerge, always wearing a black wife beater, dirty jeans stained with oil and black boots that had seen their better days. Even in the dead of winter this was his uniform. He sported an enormous handlebar mustache that spanned from ear to ear and wore his long, greasy hair slicked back, his gold hoop earring gleaming wickedly. And he was ancient. Had to have been at least 50! Well, as it happened, my neighbors and I had spent the good part of an afternoon well into cocktails when we spied this ol’ monster of a man poking around in his front yard. Filled with 101-proof liquid courage the three of us excitedly decided to cross the street, introduce ourselves and, maybe, make a new friend. We took the jug o’ brown with us. Over we went and when he saw us approaching he scowled, his face filled with distrust and irritation. By then it was too late to turn back, so with plastered smiles on our faces we stuck out our hands, made our introductions and let the jug be seen. Honey, when that man caught sight of that bottle his face lit up like a damn Christmas tree. “Felix.”, he said sweetly, “Felix Kowalski.” I happily replied, “Well, Fee, it’s a pleasure to finally meet you!” From that day forward he was known to us as “Fee” and although he never crossed the street and visited us, not once, we came and went, in and out of his house just as happy as you please. He had become our friend. I always made way too much food and regularly took him plates that he seemed to just suck down. Although Fee was from New York’s Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood, I remember…Mott Street, that giant was a softie. The man had adopted every cat in the area, fed them and welcomed them into his home. On authority but off the record from others in the hood, he would sell anyone in need a joint…for $1.00. But listen to this. And this is what I loved about him. Big, burly Fee was fully and unreservedly addicted to the “Smurfs” cartoon show. The Smurfs! Remember those little blue characters? Yeah, well, he was like a little boy when that program came on. He was up at all hours watching that show. So when I came home from a night of partying, I’d start this dish and while the potatoes were browning in the pan I’d take a hot shower and, time I got out, flip them to brown on the other side. Regardless of the time, Fee always answered his door with a smile on his face, eager to dig into some warm, homemade food. This was one of his favorites. Mine, too.
Rosti is really like a round hash brown cake and can be prepared with solely potatoes or with a few herbs and meat. The dish is served all over Switzerland and, as you can well imagine, every recipe is different. Some grate their potatoes raw, others boil their potatoes, jackets on, then grate them. I lean towards the latter method, it’s always worked for me. By boiling the whole potatoes you’re more likely to end up with a golden, crispy crust and a creamy, buttery inside, which is exactly what you want. If you’re hesitant to try this, half the recipe and start with a small, non-stick skillet, way easier to flip. It’s a great winter side for chicken and meats or even as an entrée with a salad.
After a weekend of pizza, steaks, casseroles heavy with cheese and dinners out, Meatless Monday sure does creep up fast. The entire family, that would be the three of us!, worked at the Greek festival all weekend so when the week started, needless to say, the cupboards were bare. And after grabbing a bite here and there of pita and hummus, flaming Greek cheese and sausage, baklava, feta fries and tender bits of lamb, a clean but healthful dinner was desperately needed. When I say “clean” I mean little or no dairy, no heavy sauces and no frying. Clean eating doesn’t sentence one to a lifetime of salads. On the contrary, the Greek diet is mostly plant-based but the beauty is the brilliant twist the Greeks give their vegetables. A stick of cinnamon thrown in here, a squeeze of fresh lemon there, elevate the humble dishes to celebrity status. Smoky, roasted eggplant can be fused with walnuts, garlic and lemon juice yielding a creamy dip that will knock your socks off. What I love about this dish of stewed, roasted vegetable is you don’t need to really follow the recipe. There is a long, and I mean loooong, list of ingredients that work together magnificently and still offer a rib-sticking meal. Most of the vegetables are interchangeable so feel free to throw in a bag of green beans if you’re out of zucchini. Canned whole tomatoes are fine if you have no fresh ones. When I prepared this dish this week I had forgotten fresh mint, dill and flat leaf parsley at the grocery store. We’re in high season here in South Florida. Every tourist and his brother is out joy ridin’ and if you think I was going out in that snarl of 5:00 traffic you’ve got another thing coming. And I LOVE fresh mint in my Tourlou. I had on hand, though, dried dill and a big ol’ bush of oregano. This is also the ideal dish for out of season vegetables such as tomatoes. Roasting them brings out flavors the tomatoes didn’t even know they had.
If you want to be creative this is the recipe for you. My recipe is just a guideline and what works for me. Mushrooms, peas…I guess the point I’m trying to make is roast whichever vegetables you enjoy. My vegetable stew came out positively gorgeous, I mean, just look at the photos! It was warm and satisfying, so good in fact, I didn’t even want the usual topping of crumbled Greek feta cheese. I served the dish with a chunk of crusty French bread, absolutely necessary to sop up the exquisite bend of juices from the onions, garlic, tomatoes and olive oil. And although it may be juvenile and straight out of the nursery, I’m 100% guilty of using my fork to crush a few random pieces of potato to then mix in the fragrant olive oil and juices. Oh, yes! Heaven on a plate.
3/4 cup olive oil
1 large onion, halved and sliced
1 large head garlic, peeled and chopped
1 large bell pepper, halved and cut into strips
1 large eggplant, cut into 1 1/2″ pieces
1 1/2 pounds zucchini, cut into 1/2″ rounds
4 carrots, cut into 1/4″ rounds
3 pounds tomatoes, each tomato cut into eighths
2 pounds potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 1/2″ pieces
1/2 cup fresh mint, leaves chopped
1/2 cup fresh dill, chopped or 1 heaping tablespoon dried
1 cup flat leaf parsley, chopped
1 tablespoon each salt and pepper
Greek feta cheese, crumbled, optional
Pre-heat oven to 350°.
Cover an extra-large roasting pan or casserole dish with non-stick cooking spray making certain to cover all of the bottom and sides of the pan.
If your roasting vessel is glass or not stove-top safe, use a pan for this next step. If your roasting pan is metal and stove top safe the entire dish maybe prepared in the roasting pan. Heat the olive oil over medium heat in the roasting pan or skillet.
Add the onion slices cook until soft, stirring often.
Add the garlic and continue stirring. Take care that the garlic doesn’t burn. If using a pan transfer this mixture to the sprayed roasting dish. If onion mixture cooked in the roasting pan, turn off heat but leave stove top.
Add all remaining ingredients except feta cheese, stirring between additions. Make certain all ingredients are evenly coated with olive oil, herbs, salt and pepper and any pan juices.
Cover tightly with tin foil and bake for one hour.
Carefully remove tin foil, stir vegetables and continue to bake uncovered for 30 minutes.
Remove from oven and allow to cool 5 minutes.
If using feta cheese scatter one or two tablespoons over each plate.