Summer Pasta

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Basil has a very distinctive smell. At the checkout counter it never gets mistaken for cilantro or flat leaf parsley. Like many people, I love it, but there was a period of about 2 months that I really couldn’t tolerate it at all. I was almost seven months pregnant and twice a week I drove for about an hour down a windy mountain road to take classes at a local junior college. Around the bottom of the mountains  nestled farms that grew apricots, avocados, grapefruit, oranges, cabbages, and lettuces. Driving along through the fields of vegetables or orchards of trees on both sides of the road was very pleasant. The trees were laden with fruit, the occasional hawk perched on a fence, and when the trees were in bloom the smell was fantastic. I would roll down the windows and breathe deeply. That changed in early spring when they planted basil. The smell became so strong that it made me nauseous. I started to dread that part of the journey but there was no alternative route, and I wanted to finish these classes. After all I had a major deadline. I tried rolling up the windows, holding my breath, or distracting myself with music or books on tape. Pushing my old VW squareback past the fields as fast it would go with music blaring seemed to work the best. One morning just as I got to the bottom of the mountain, I heard a huge clunk as the rear axle hit the road, and I watched the back wheel of my car race past me heading down the road. I skidded to a stop. We found the runaway wheel more than a block away. After inspecting the back end of the car, the tow truck driver asked if I had heard anything before the wheel rolled past me. I shook my head.  When he put the key in the ignition the music was deafening; I didn’t say anything, his look said it all. Luckily for me the basil was harvested the following week.

This is a summer recipe. Great for a party—you can double the ingredients easily. It takes about ten or fifteen minutes in the morning to gather the ingredients in a bowl. Then push it to the back of the countertop and let it sit while you get on with your day. In the evening cook the pasta for ten minutes or so and voilà!  No oven involved and the stove only has to be on long enough to cook the pasta. Once it is cooked you toss it in a bowl with the room-temperature sauce and it just melts together. The smell of basil and garlic is mouthwatering. Everyone is marveling at you thinking you slaved all day over this dish.

 Photo by: Lucy Alexander

Photo by: Lucy Alexander

Note:

The original recipe say to prepare the sauce two hours before, but I find that if I make it in the morning and leave it on the counter with a plate over it the flavors are more developed.

Also, I love garlic—but not raw. Since the sauce for this recipe isn’t cooked, I use roasted garlic oil( recipe below). You still get the flavor of the garlic but when it roasts in oil, it sweetens and mellows, I keep a jar on the door of my fridge at all times. It lasts forever and I find that I use it more and more on roasted veggies, salad dressings, or other pasta sauces. I encourage you to give it a try; you won’t be sorry.

Summer Pasta

adapted from the Silver Palate Cookbook

  • 6 medium sized tomatoes cut into ½-¾ inch chunks
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 8 oz brie—cut off rind
  • ½ cup basil leaves cut into ribbons (make sure they are dry or the oil won’t stick)
  • 4 small cloves of minced garlic or 1 teaspoon of roasted garlic oil (recipe to follow)
  • I package of linguine (1lb)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

In a large bowl place the tomatoes, olive oil, brie (torn into pieces), basil ribbons, garlic, ½ teaspoon of salt, and a couple grinds of pepper. Mix to incorporate and then leave the bowl on the counter with a plate over it to macerate.  (See note above.)

Bring a large pot to boil and cook pasta according to package directions. You want the pasta to be tender but still have a bit of tooth . While the pasta is cooking taste the sauce. Add more salt or pepper if needed. When the pasta is ready, quickly drain and toss with the sauce. Serve immediately.

 Photo by: Lucy Alexander

Photo by: Lucy Alexander

Roasted Garlic Oil

  • 2 heads of garlic, cloves  smashed and peeled
  • 1 ½ cups of olive oil
  • ½ teaspoon of salt

Preheat oven 325°

Place garlic cloves in a glass baking dish along with oil and salt, covering the garlic with oil. Depending on the size of your dish you might need a bit more oil. Bake about 30 minutes. Check after 20 minutes or so. You want the garlic to be golden but not brown.

Pour off  ¾ cup of the oil and save. This garlic-flavored oil can be used in many dishes, like salad dressing or over a mound of hummus.

Place the rest of the garlic along with the oil in a food processor and pulse 6 or 7 times until the garlic is a paste. Scoop the mixture into a jar and keep in the fridge. I use it for this recipe, roasted vegetables, pasta sauce, brushed over salmon, shrimp, burgers, or lamb chops. For any dish that I would usually add garlic to I use this garlic oil. It lasts for months.

Written by: Claudia Alexander

Ice Cream Sandwiches

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Strawberry Ice Cream

  • 4 egg yolks beaten
  • scant ¾ cup sugar
  • 1 cup 1% milk
  • a pinch of salt
  • 1 cup whipping cream
  • 2 cups strawberries

Put strawberries in a food processor and pulse until they are the texture of hot dog relish (if they are too big they will stick out of the ice cream sandwiches). In a medium bowl toss them with ¼ cup of sugar, and put the bowl in the fridge.

In a saucepan over medium heat combine egg yolks, ½ cup sugar, salt and milk. Whisk until the custard starts to thicken, about 10 minutes. Keep an eye on it so that it doesn’t burn.

 

 

Chocolate Waffle Wafers

  •        2/3 cup all-purpose flour
  •        ¼ cup cocoa powder –optional (I use Guittard)
  •        1/4 tsp. salt
  •       2 eggs
  •        1/2 cup sugar
  •       4 Tbs. (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted
  •        1/4 cup milk
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Transfer to a bowl and slowly add the cream to combine. When cool add the mixture to an ice cream maker and freeze according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Add the strawberries in the last five minutes.

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Turn waffle maker on to #3 heat setting.

Mix flour, cocoa powder and salt in a medium bowl and set aside.

Whisk eggs and sugar in a large mixing bowl for a minute until it gets frothy and light lemon yellow. Gradually add flour mixture. When it is incorporated, add the butter and milk. Pour about ¼ cup of batter onto the waffle maker, close lid and cook for about two minutes.

Using tongs, lift the waffle off the griddle. Pour another batch of batter into your machine and close the lid. While the next one is cooking, cut the cooked waffle with a 2 ½" cookie/biscuit cutter (you will get three or four wafers out of each waffle). Repeat until you are out of batter. After the wafers are completely cooled, see the directions above for filling the wafer.

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Feta Stuffed Chicken Thighs

 Photo by: Lucy Alexander

Photo by: Lucy Alexander

One summer I was living on Cape Cod with a couple of college friends. We were having such a great time together that we decided to stay longer. (Living on Cape Cod can be wonderful in the wintertime. The beaches are empty and many of the restaurants and shops are closed; it might not be swimsuit weather, but the tourists are gone, there’s no traffic, and you can take long walks on the beach without tripping over a sleeping sunburned body. The place we were renting had originally been a one-room cottage but the owners had added on to it over the years one room at a time, so the kitchen was carpeted while the living room/dining room floor was linoleum.   Being students, we were living on a shoestring budget. We all took turns cooking dinner and one day I decided to roast a turkey. Stuffing the bird, I rubbed it with butter, salt and pepper, and slid it into a brown paper bag the way I had seen my mother do many times. Then I tied the end of the bag with kitchen twine and placed it in a roasting pan, which I put in the oven. (Roast turkey takes a few hours, so it can dry out; the bag was supposed to keep

the meat moist.) I set the timer and left the room. After an hour, I came back to check on the turkey and the kitchen was filled with smoke. I tore open the oven door, yanked out the oven rack as far as it would go, and where the rack stopped, the roasting pan continued… to slide. The turkey rolled onto the carpet. The brown paper bag was in flames. (The bag had caught on fire because the oven was small and the bag was touching the electric elements at the top of the oven. Lesson learned.) I threw a dish towel over the flames and the fire went out. As I lifted the turkey up, parts of the still smoking bag stuck to the carpet. I put the bird back in the pan, closed the oven door and spent the rest of the afternoon trying to clean up the mess.

 

This recipe is not for stuffed turkey but stuffed chicken thighs. You don’t have to put them in a bag, so don’t worry about them bursting into flames in your oven.

 
 Photo by: Lucy Alexander

Photo by: Lucy Alexander

Feta Spread

(makes 1 cup)

  • ½ cup feta
  • 3 tablespoons plain yogurt
  • 2 tablespoons sun dried tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons kalamata olives (about 8)
  • 2 tablespoons green olives (3 large)
  • 1 tablespoon capers, drained
  • lemon zest from ½ lemon (optional)
  • 2 sprigs of flat leaf parsley

 

In a food processor add tomatoes, olives, capers, parsley, and zest (if using). Pulse until finely chopped. Add yogurt and feta and pulse until almost smooth. It is fine to have some small lumps of feta.

This spread is also great on its own with bread, crackers, raw vegetables, or spread on a sandwich.

Will keep in the fridge for a week to 10 days.

 Photo by: Lucy Alexander

Photo by: Lucy Alexander

 Photo by: Lucy Alexander

Photo by: Lucy Alexander

Stuffed Chicken Thighs

 

  • 1 1/2 lb. of boneless skinless chicken thighs (4 or 5 thighs)
  • ¼ cup all purpose flour
  • 2 eggs (beaten)
  • ½-1 cup panko bread crumbs
  • ¼ cup of feta spread (recipe below)
  •  toothpicks

Preheat oven to 350°

Put the chicken thighs between two sheets of plastic wrap, wax paper, or parchment paper. Using a rolling pin, pound the thighs so that each thigh is an even thickness

Place a tablespoon of feta spread in the middle of each thigh. Starting from the bottom, fold the thigh in half (making a kind of pocket for the feta). Tuck any loose ends into the pocket.Secure with three toothpicks.  If the thighs are small break a  toothpick in half and, holding the thigh with one hand, push each half into the top of the thigh, securing the thigh closed. Do the same on both sides.

Place two pieces of wax paper about 12 inches long on the counter. Spread the flour on one and panko bread crumbs on another. Place the beaten eggs in a medium-sized bowl between them.

Heat a large ovenproof skillet over medium heat. While it is heating, coat the thighs with  flour, egg and panko: gently roll the stuffed thigh in the flour, covering it completely. Next dip the floured thigh in the beaten egg, again covering it completely. Now roll it carefully in the bread crumbs, taking care not to loosen the toothpicks.

 Photo by: Lucy Alexander

Photo by: Lucy Alexander

Add a pad of butter and 3 or 4 tablespoons of olive oil to the pan. Once the butter has melted add the chicken thighs and cook until golden, about 4 minutes on each side. Place the pan in the oven and cook for 20 minutes. Make sure you use an oven mitt to take the pan out of the oven. Serve warm.

Written by: Claudia Alexander

Fruit Salad Dressed

 Photo by: Lucy Alexander

Photo by: Lucy Alexander

Dad was the cook in the family, not because he liked to cook—he just wasn’t interested in carrot juice, cod liver oil, or plain yogurt that my mom ate and fed to us three kids. She was so dedicated that my baby brother had an orange tint to his skin from drinking so much carrot juice in his bottle. When we were lucky enough to have my dad around (he traveled a lot), he actually cooked “regular food”. He wasn’t a bad cook, but it wasn’t until I left home that I discovered that barbequed chicken wasn’t supposed to be black.

 Photo by: Lucy Alexander

Photo by: Lucy Alexander

One summer when I was home for a couple weeks, I filled a big bowl with lettuce, celery, cucumber, and tomatoes, then topped it with half an avocado filled with tuna. I took the peanut butter jar out of the fridge, poured it over the salad, popped a beer and headed out to the patio. The sun was shining. I had the house to myself, a paperback under my arm, perfect setting for some quality time with my lunch and my book. I sat down, and with the first mouthful realized I had covered my salad with my mother’s cod liver oil.

The dressing for this fruit salad is unusual too but in a good way. Most fruit salads don’t have dressing at all but the poppy seeds give this salad an unusual  crunch along with the crisp green grapes and the juicy berries. Perfect for a picnic or just lunch on the patio with your favorite book.

Fruit Salad

  • 1 pint of strawberries hulled and halved
  • 1 cup each blueberries & raspberries
  • 1 cup green grapes halved
  • 1 large orange peeled, halved and cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 1½ Tablespoon canola, or safflower oil
  • 1 teaspoon poppy seeds
  • 2 teaspoons lemon zest
  • 1 Tablespoon honey
 Photo by: Lucy Alexander

Photo by: Lucy Alexander

His omelets were good though, light and fluffy. He also made killer salad dressing. Many of my parents friends asked for the recipe, but he never shared it. Not because the dressing was  so very unusual but because my dad changed it depending on what we had in the kitchen at the time. Whenever I opened my parents refrigerator there was always an old peanut butter jar of his dressing on the shelf.

 Photo by: Lucy Alexander

Photo by: Lucy Alexander

Wash and dry all the fruit and place in a large bowl. Set aside.

In a small bowl whisk the oil and honey together. Add the poppy seeds and zest and pour over the fruit. Mix until the seeds are evenly distributed. At this point you can chill it for an hour or serve it right away. This dish is best the first day.

 Photo by: Lucy Alexander

Photo by: Lucy Alexander

Written by: Claudia Alexander

Lemon Butter Shrimp

 Photo by: Lucy Alexander

Photo by: Lucy Alexander

In Mexico, shrimp fishing can be traced back to pre-Columbian times, but it only started there commercially in 1920. The shrimp from Guaymas, on the Bay of California (The Sea of Cortez) became famous all over Mexico for its sweet flavor. (Mexico started banning shrimp fishing in 2014 to try to protect the already fished-out seas.) This was my go-to food in Acapulco, where I spent some time in my twenties. In those days Acapulco was a popular vacation town with both celebrities and young honeymooners. I lived there for a year with my boyfriend, Juan, who worked as the food and beverage director at a fancy hotel. Restaurant owners all over town would offer Juan and me free meals and drinks. As the American, I was the guinea pig. If I liked the food and didn’t get food poisoning, the owners hoped Juan would recommend their restaurant to the hotel guests. We had some fantastic meals, of course—but I did get sick a lot! One little hole-in-the-wall joint on the main drag never offered Juan complimentary meals, but we ate there often, enticed by the smell of fresh tortillas, marinated beef, shrimp, and whole scallions tossed on the grill. The food was fresh, simple and delicious. At this time of year as the days grow longer, and vacation season approaches, I think about that place.

 Photo by: Lucy Alexander

Photo by: Lucy Alexander

Lemon Butter Shrimp

Pre-heat oven to 400°

Ingredients:

  • 4 tablespoons of butter
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil
  • ½ teaspoon of salt
  • freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 2 lemons
  • 1 lb of peeled shrimp—wild if you can get them (16-20 count)
  • 5 cloves of garlic, 3 minced and     2 sliced
 Photo by: Lucy Alexander

Photo by: Lucy Alexander

 

Line a sheet pan with foil or parchment paper and set aside.

In a medium saucepan melt the butter. Add juice from one of the lemons, the salt, and the minced garlic. Cook over low heat for about two minutes and set aside.

Place the shrimp in the sheet pan in a single layer. Cut the remaining lemon into slices and tuck the slices in and around the shrimp. Pour the butter lemon sauce over the top of the shrimp and cook in the oven 10 minutes, 12 at the most.

 

 

 This easy shrimp recipe reminds me of that hole-in-the-wall restaurant. It takes less than 20 minutes to cook and it's also versatile. You can serve the shrimp over pasta, on top of a green salad, as an appetizer, or just pour the whole pan onto a platter and serve with a great loaf of bread to sop up the leftover drippings. Or you can stuff the shrimp into warm tortillas. On your vacation, I hope you can find a local and delicious place to eat, but just in case, consider planning a few simple and deliciously memorable meals like this one.

 Photo by: Lucy Alexander

Photo by: Lucy Alexander

Tortilla Española

 Photo by: Lucy Alexander

Photo by: Lucy Alexander

When I was seventeen I spent a summer in Spain, mostly Madrid. My mother had signed me up for an educational vacation, and about 45 of us from all over the country found ourselves housed in dorm rooms at the University of Madrid. Our teacher was a Spanish college student not much older than us, and we became fast friends. She wanted to practice her English, which made it hard for us to learn Spanish (the reason we were there); we wanted to shop, sit by a pool, and look at boys.  Many of the locals had left for the coast or were out of the country because it was hot and humid, so the streets were pretty empty during the day. But when the sun set, the sidewalks would suddenly fill with people. That was our cue to head to our favorite spot, an old stucco building with white walls 3 or 4 feet thick. The whole place was huge, but at first we didn’t realize it because the main room was so small. We followed the sound of music down a long hallway with many twists and turns leading to other rooms with small bars. Continuing down some stairs to a basement, we found a Flamenco guitarist playing. Sometimes there were amazing dancers too. Occasionally the dancers were men, but they were so serious that I preferred to watch the women who were passionate as they twisted their ruffled skirts and tossed their heads from side to side, long hair flying as they danced. The guitarist would begin the song very slowly and the dancer would tap her shoes in time. Gradually the guitar would get louder and faster and the dancer would too, clapping her hands and snapping her fingers. I was completely mesmerized. The suburbs of Boston became a distant world.

The bar specialized in sangria and tapas. The sangria was served in a dented metal pitcher with a wooden spoon sticking out of the top. Along with the sangria, they would bring us almonds, anchovies, and a kind of fat omelette called a tortilla. It was filled with onions and potatoes, and cut into cubes that you ate with toothpicks. Wow—dinner without a fork and knife! I felt very continental...

 
 Photo by: Lucy Alexander

Photo by: Lucy Alexander

A classic combination of potatoes, onions and eggs with the delicious addition of basil and feta. A popular potluck or picnic dish because it is delicious warm as well as room temperature. This easy tortilla recipe can be made in less than an hour and is easy to clean up. Enjoy!

 Photo by: Lucy Alexander

Photo by: Lucy Alexander

 

Recipe:

  • Preheat oven at 450°
  • 9 large eggs
  • 4 medium sized yukon gold potatoes, skinned and sliced into bite-size pieces (about 1")
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 4 scallions sliced thin
  • 1 cup basil
  • 1 cup feta crumbled
  • 1/2 cup olive oil

Pour olive oil in a large oven proof skillet over medium heat. Add potatoes in a single layer sprinkle with a couple pinches of salt. Cook about 10-12 minutes, as the oil begins to bubble watch them closely pull them ou before they start to brown. Drain them and set aside in a large bowl, reserving 3 tablespoons of the oil. Add 1 tablespoon of oil to the skillet along with the scallions and the basil, wilting slightly, add them to the potatoes. Now whisk the eggs and add them to the potato mixture, set aside. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons to the skillet over medium heat add the egg mixture. Cook about 10 minutes until the edges are almost set but the middle is still a bit wet. Add the crumbled feta and push it into the tortilla. Place in the upper two thirds of you oven about 5 minutes. Using oven mitts, place a large plate over the tortilla and flip the pan over the tortilla. It will be hard not to cut into the tortilla right away, it smells great. You can serve it at room temperature too though and it is very popular at a pot luck or picnic.