Locally grown pedigree sweetens bitter greens

Between berries, tree fruit, corn, melon, tomatoes and more, summer is a season of sweetness.

Bitter greens, however, are abundant at local grocers. And many of these chicory-family members are locally grown, to boot. Escarole and radicchio that I recently purchased at Medford’s Food 4 Less boast the “Rogue Valley Grown” band. Add the Belgian endive that Food 4 Less has only recently begun to stock (oh, joy!), and you’ve got all the ingredients for this distinctive and supremely simple salad from the Chicago Tribune.

As food writer Leah Eskin points out, these sturdy greens require virtually no prep time. They hold up better than lettuce does to the rigors of transport and refrigerator storage. Even if chicories cost a few cents more per pound, there’s almost always less waste compared with lettuce. And unlike capricious lettuce, they’ll keep in the crisper for a week or longer, just biding their time for salad inspiration to strike.

Freshly shelled English peas prompted me last week to hard-boil some eggs and fry some bacon, finally using the bacon fat for a warm, mustard-infused vinaigrette. Whereas lettuce would melt upon dousing with hot grease, escarole and its cousin frisee — or curly endive — stand up to the treatment. Their bitterness is the ideal counterpoint to so many other rich and savory ingredients.

This recipe, inspired by Bon Appetit magazine, isn’t quite so decadent, serving more as a palate cleanser. But it does incorporate mustard, sweetened with a bit of honey. Grab the greens to make it while they last.

Tribune News Service photo

Chicory Salad

3 tablespoons sherry vinegar

3 tablespoons whole-grain mustard

1/4 cup olive oil

2 tablespoons honey (warm briefly to make measuring easier)

1 large head escarole, leaves separated and torn

1 large head frisee or 2 heads Belgian endive, leaves separated and torn

1 large (or 2 small) head(s) radicchio, leaves separated and torn

1/4 cup snipped fresh chives

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

In a small bowl, whisk together the vinegar, mustard, oil and honey.

In a large salad bowl, toss together the escarole, frisee, radicchio and chives.

Drizzle greens with dressing to taste. Season with the salt and pepper. Toss.

Makes 8 to 10 servings.

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Minestrone veggies do double duty in pasta salad

The Whole Dish podcast: Follow a few rules for superior pasta salads

On a day usually devoted to barbecue, a bowl of hearty minestrone hit the spot.

Granted, it may have been the cool mountain air that piqued our appetites for hot, savory soup. But lest we forget, minestrone is a dish that celebrates summer, at least the version commonly known to Americans.

Zucchini, eggplant, corn, green beans, potatoes and tomatoes compose my quintessential minestrone, garnished with a dollop of homemade pesto. The lion’s share of ingredients will take a few more weeks to come on strong. But when they do, it’ll be time to simmer a few quarts of minestrone to fill the freezer. Reheated, it can be bulked up with pasta or cooked beans or both.

If it’s simply too hot for eating soup on the spot, the same roster of veggies can do double duty in this distinctive pasta salad. Evoking minestrone, the barely cooked preparation keeps flavors bright and textures toothsome. The cohesive ingredients make this pasta stand out among summer’s standbys.

And don’t hesitate to mix and match veggies based on what’s freshest, as with any good minestrone. Fava beans are a natural forerunner to green beans. Yellow crookneck or patty-pan squash can replace zucchini. Cauliflower, particularly the orange “cheddar” variety, would be my pick over carrots.

Remember that the most palate-pleasing pasta salads feature components that are all roughly the same size. So slice and dice veggies as precisely as possible. And resist the urge in this case to use larger pasta, like pedestrian rotini, penne or bowties.

Photo for The Washington Post by Stacy Zarin Goldberg

Minestrone Pasta Salad

Kosher salt, as needed

8 ounces dried ditalini pasta

6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided

1/2 cup finely diced red onion

1 medium (4 ounces) zucchini, cut into 1/4-inch cubes

4 ounces green beans (ends trimmed), cut into 1/4-inch pieces

2 medium (4 ounces total) carrots, scrubbed well, then cut into generous 1/4-inch cubes (3/4 cup)

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

1 tablespoon red-wine vinegar

1 teaspoon dried oregano, crushed

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1/8 teaspoon sugar

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

3/4 cup cooked, no-salt-added chickpeas (drained and rinsed if using canned)

3/4 cup cooked, no-salt-added Great Northern beans (drained and rinsed if using canned)

2 ounces sliced hard Italian salami, cut into generous 1/4-inch squares

3 tablespoons finely chopped, fresh basil, plus more for optional garnish

1 (6-ounce) tomato, peeled, seeded and cut into 1/4-inch dice, for garnish (optional)

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the ditalini and cook according to package directions. Use a slotted spoon/strainer to transfer pasta to a colander set in sink; rinse with cold water to cool immediately. Return pot of water to a boil.

Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a medium, nonstick saute pan or skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook for 2 minutes, stirring. Add the zucchini pieces and cook for 3 minutes; vegetable should still be firm. Remove from heat.

Prepare a bowl of water and ice.

Add the string bean pieces to pot of boiling water; cook for 3 minutes. Add the carrots and cook for 3 minutes — no longer. Immediately drain vegetables, then transfer them to ice-water bath. After 10 minutes, drain vegetables. Lay them out on paper towels or on a clean dish towel to dry.

In a large bowl, whisk remaining 5 tablespoons oil with the vinegars, oregano, mustard and sugar to form an emulsified dressing. Season lightly with salt and the pepper. Add the cooked pasta, zucchini-onion mix, carrots, green beans, chickpeas, Great Northern beans, salami and chopped basil; stir to incorporate.

Taste and adjust seasoning as needed. Transfer to a serving bowl. If desired, garnish with the basil and diced tomato just before serving.

Makes 12 servings (makes about 8 1/2 cups).

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Fourth of July fare can skip mayo-dressed salads

A fuss-free Fourth of July spread, fittingly, fills this week’s food section. Writers for the Detroit Free Press steered clear of mayonnaise-based salads, too, ensuring that the meal is light and refreshing.

While vinaigrette-dressed pasta salads are simple and safer to serve in hot weather, couscous and its ilk makes a great alternative for potlucks and picnics where pasta is bound to be plentiful. At a recent outdoor meal, I observed just as many couscous and bulgur-based recipes as noodle dishes. Tabbouleh, of course, is a classic with summer tomatoes and cucumbers.

Here’s a riff on the concept that incorporates the cauliflower coming on strong at local farms and in home gardens, like mine. The beige grain base is the perfect canvas for bright-orange cheddar cauliflower, which we grow, and also purple varieties. Like the pasta salad featured in this week’s food section, this salad pumps up the flavor with a Dijon mustard dressing.

If you want to substitute cracked wheat (medium-grain bulgur), soak 1 2/3 cups (10 ounces) in 3 cups very hot water to cover in a large bowl until nearly tender, usually for about 1 hour. Drain well before using. Alternatively, consider using 2 cups steamed quinoa or millet. There’s even tricolor quinoa to play up the holiday theme.

Tribune News Service photo

Couscous Salad With Roasted Cauliflower and Dijon

1/2 head cauliflower, cored, separated into small florets (total about 8 cups)

4 tablespoons expeller pressed canola oil or olive oil, divided

About 3/4 teaspoon salt, divided

1 box (8.8 ounces) whole-wheat Israeli couscous

1/2 cup golden raisins

4 large ripe plum tomatoes, cored and diced

1/2 large seedless cucumber, peeled and cut in small dice

1/2 small red onion, finely diced and rinsed well

Dijon Dressing (recipe follows)

4 ounces crumbled goat cheese or feta cheese

4 cups watercress, arugula or baby kale (or a combination)

1/4 cup roasted and salted sunflower seeds

Balsamic glaze (optional)

Heat oven to 400 F. Toss the cauliflower with 3 tablespoons of the oil on a large, rimmed baking sheet (or use 2 baking sheets). Sprinkle lightly with about 1/4 teaspoon of the salt. Roast cauliflower, stirring occasionally, until golden and fork-tender, for 20 to 25 minutes. Cool.

Meanwhile, put remaining 1 tablespoon oil into a medium saucepan. Add 3 cups water; heat to a boil. Add the couscous and remaining salt. Reduce heat to low; cover pot. Cook until nearly tender, for about 8 minutes. Let stand for a couple of minutes; drain in a colander. Transfer to a large bowl, stir in the raisins and let cool.

Stir the tomatoes, cucumber, onion and roasted cauliflower into couscous. Refrigerate, covered, for up to 1 day.

Just before serving, add the dressing to couscous mixture to taste. Gently mix salad. Add the cheese crumbles and watercress. Toss to mix. Serve sprinkled with the sunflower seeds and drizzled with a little balsamic glaze.

Makes 4 to 6 main-course salads, about 8 to 12 side-dish servings.

DIJON DRESSING: In a jar with a tight-fitting lid, mix 1/2 cup olive oil (or a combination of olive and safflower oils), 1/4 cup white-wine vinegar (or white balsamic vinegar), 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper. Shake well before using. Makes about 3/4 cup. Dressing will keep in refrigerator for a few days.

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Nutty blondies don’t leave me craving chocolate

Blondies, a 1970s throwback, perhaps could be credited to a cook who came up short on cocoa.

Unless you’re a fan of treats that emphasize rich, toasted nuts, a slightly bitter counterpoint to unadulterated sugar and butter. That’s the concept behind two of my extended family’s favorite desserts: pecan pie and pecan snowballs aka Mexican wedding cakes. While nuts improve any brownie on my palate, they’re usually not copious enough.

Blondies — blond brownies — keep nuts where they belong, front and center. The addition of a sticky toffee topping recalls pecan-pie filling and raises blondies up a notch beyond the recipe featured in the current edition of A la Carte (see the June 27 e-edition) As the week’s story about sugars explained, Muscovado sugar has a deep molasses flavor and is an option for more savory uses such as in barbecue sauces.

The following recipe is best mixed by hand, rather than with an electric mixer, which can overwork the batter and make it gummy.

Tribune News Service photo

Sticky Toffee Blondies With Sea Salt and Roasted Pecans

1  1/2 cups pecans, plus more for garnish

1  1/2 cups (3 sticks) butter

3  1/4 cups (13 ounces) pastry flour

1  1/4 teaspoons kosher salt

3 eggs

2 tablespoons vanilla extract

1 cup plus 1 tablespoon (8.8 ounces) dark brown sugar

3/4 cup plus a scant 2 tablespoons (6.9 ounces) Muscovado sugar

Sticky Toffee Glaze (recipe follows)

Fleur de sel or other medium grain sea salt, for garnish

Heat oven to 350 F. Spread the pecans out on a rimmed baking sheet. Toast pecans until darkened and aromatic, for 6 to 8 minutes, being careful not to burn. Remove and cool; coarsely chop.

While pecans are cooling, brown the butter by placing in a wide pan and heat over medium-low heat until milk solids are nicely browned and butter has a toasted, nutty flavor, for 4 to 5 minutes. Remove from heat and pour into a mixing bowl. Set aside.

Prepare a 9-by-9-inch baking pan by spraying it with nonstick spray, lining with a piece of parchment paper sized to bottom of pan, then spraying once again to coat paper and sides of pan.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour and salt. In a separate large mixing bowl, whisk together the eggs and vanilla.

Carefully whisk the sugars in with the warm butter, mixing well to combine. Slowly whisk butter mixture into beaten eggs and vanilla, mixing well until fully incorporated.

Add flour mixture and blend it in until there are just a few pockets of dry flour remaining, careful not to overmix. Add toasted pecans and fold them in.

Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake blondies for 12 minutes, then rotate pan. Blondies will be done when the top is glossy and crackling a little and center is slightly firm when pressed gently on top. They will be somewhat soft, but not gooey in center. Remove from heat and cool on a rack. While blondies are baking, prepare the glaze.

Cut blondies into 9 even squares. Dip top of each in glaze. Sprinkle each with a little of the sea salt and garnish with some chopped toasted pecans. Serve as they are, or store them covered once glaze has dried. Blondies will keep for up to 4 days in a covered container, and up to 2 weeks frozen in a sealed container.

STICKY TOFFEE GLAZE: In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine 3/4 cup brown sugar, 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, 1 cup heavy cream and 2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon each: honey and corn syrup. Bring to a boil over high heat and boil for 1 minute. Remove from heat and set aside to cool until both blondies and sauce are cooled. This makes a generous 2 cups sauce, more than is needed for blondies; sauce will keep, covered and refrigerated, up to 2 weeks.

Adapted by the Los Angeles Times from a recipe by Elizabeth Belkind of Cake Monkey.

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Summer rekindles cook’s love affair with lavender

The Whole Dish podcast: Lavender piques the palate in palate in dishes sweet or savory

It’s officially summer by the calendar, but the season’s quintessential flavors — notably tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers and basil — are still a few weeks off.

And with the garden’s spring vegetables — asparagus, artichokes and peas — fading fast, I’ve been something at a loss for mealtime inspiration. Then I brought a big bouquet of English lavender into the house. That nostalgic aroma both lightened my mood and served as a pungent reminder of meals and methods I’d cherished in years past but allowed to fall by the wayside since my culinary efforts have more recently catered to children.

About a decade ago, I experienced a love affair of sorts with lavender, after my mother-in-law brought me a tin of culinary lavender from Pelindaba Lavender on Washington’s San Juan Island. The dried flowers were a key ingredient in what became my signature seasoning rub of sea salt, white pepper and lavender for grilled meats, particularly lamb. I habitually combined the blossoms with mustard seeds to marinate the meat for my well-received honey-mustard grilled chicken.

Lamb and chicken both are favorites of my 3- and 5-year-old sons, but seasoning for their tender palates is decidedly less distinctive. As they become a bit more adventurous, those dishes are likely to reemerge. Until then, there’s always preparations that are indisputably adult, such as these cocktails, courtesy of Tribune News Service.

Even when the lavender outside has faded, these will still find appeal in my house. My husband craves a good gin and tonic, and I have an undying affection for any cocktail with grapefruit juice, mentioned in a past post.

Choose Fever-Tree tonic water; the Mediterranean flavor goes particularly well. St. Germain elderflower liqueur, another of my longtime favorites, is a fitting substitute for the simple syrup.

Tribune News Service photo

Grapefruit and Lavender Gin and Tonic

3/4 cup granulated sugar

Small sprigs fresh thyme

Small sprigs fresh lavender

Ice cubes, as needed

Thin bias-cut slices unpeeled cucumber, as needed

Thin wedge-shaped slices fresh pink grapefruit, as needed

Pink grapefruit juice, preferably freshly squeezed, as needed

Gin, as needed

Chilled tonic water, as needed

In a small saucepan, bring the sugar and ¾ cup water to a boil; simmer until sugar is dissolved, for about 3 minutes. Remove from heat. Add 2 or 3 thyme and lavender sprigs and let cool. Remove herbs and decant syrup into a small bottle. Refrigerate, covered, for up to several weeks. Makes about 1 cup syrup.

For each drink, fill a large goblet half full with ice. Put 1 cucumber slice, 1 grapefruit slice and a sprig each of lavender and mint in each goblet. Add 1 or 2 tablespoons grapefruit juice, 1 tablespoon cooled syrup, 1/4 cup gin and 1/2 cup tonic water. Stir and serve.

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Buttery, sweet cornbread doubles as dessert

The Whole Dish podcast: Savory cornbread makes for an easy layered casserole

Cornbread came to mind when a friend asked what to make to augment a take-away dinner of chicken chili Colorado.

But skipping our cooking duties for the evening was the whole point behind picking up a meal ready to reheat and eat from the Fry Family Farm Store. So I downgraded the side dish to steamed brown rice for soaking up the succulent chicken’s sauce and accenting the creamy pinto beans.

Rice was fine choice, but it’s hard to beat tender, moist cornbread with spicy stews. A buttermilk-based, barely sweetened cornbread is one of the only foods that I crave drizzled in honey. I’ve gravitated to this Southern-style bread, often baked in a cast-iron pan, although I grew up eating sweetened cornbread with a greater ratio of wheat flour that’s more common in the northern United States.

Hailing from Virginia, this recipe combines the South’s cast-iron cooking and plenty of sugar in a nearly 50-50 ratio of cornbread to flour, making for a cornbread that almost doubles as dessert. Something tells me that my family, often ambivalent to cornbread, would have no problem gobbling up this one.

Tribune News Service photo

Bruleed Cast-Iron Cornbread

2 heaping cups (9 ounces) all-purpose flour

2 1/4 cups (11 ounces) cornmeal

1 cup sugar, plus extra for brûléeing

2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder

3/4 teaspoon salt

2 eggs

3 cups whole milk (approximately), divided

1 cup (2 sticks) butter, melted, divided

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, cornmeal, 1 cup sugar, baking powder and salt.

In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs with 1 cup of the milk. Slowly whisk liquids in with dry ingredients.

Continue adding more milk, slowly whisking it in, until batter is thick but pourable. You may not use all milk.

Whisk in 1/2 cup of the melted butter. This makes about 5 cups batter. Set batter aside to rest for up to an hour. Meanwhile, heat oven to 400 F.

Lightly oil a 10-inch, cast-iron skillet and place in preheated oven for 10 minutes.

Pour batter into heated skillet and bake until golden around edges and a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, for about 30 minutes.

Brush reserved melted butter across top of cornbread and sprinkle over a light coating of sugar. Place bread under broiler or use a torch to brûlée sugar until it caramelizes. Serve warm.

Makes 8 to 12 servings.

Adapted by the Los Angeles Times from a recipe provided by Zynodoa Restaurant in Staunton, Va.

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Yogurt, fresh cream better together with berries

Strawberry season seems to be either feast or famine. Showing up in stores by April, berries from points south tend toward pale, hard and sour or squishy, moldy and musty. And that’s not to mention their price of $5 or more per pint.

Now that berry season has really arrived, that price has dropped to “two for $5,” with the organic brands just as affordable as conventionally farmed. Oh, and we also have the cutest, the sweetest — the crème de la crème — of berries in our backyard patch.

None too numerous, those backyard berries are reserved as garnishes, sort of like the cherry on top of a sundae, for special desserts. Store-bought berries are consumed indiscriminately. And if they threaten to spoil before we can eat them all, I slice them, dust them with sugar and pack them into Ziploc bags for freezing. Or I puree or simmer them to serve as a sauce.

The following dessert, courtesy of the Chicago Tribune, came together in my kitchen under all the right conditions. Strawberries I had on hand, along with an unusually large quantity of whipping cream and plenty of Nancy’s Honey Yogurt, a dead ringer for Greek yogurt.

Don’t let the lack of a heart-shaped mold keep you from trying this supremely simple dessert that’s more satisfying than sweetened whipped cream with sliced summer fruit. Even before molding and leaving overnight to drain, the mixture of heavy cream and yogurt put me in mind of marshmallow fluff, only less sticky and without all the synthetic chemicals. I’d also serve it on the spot, simply spooned into a bowl and sprinkled with a bit of citrus zest or cardamom, for dipping whole berries.

Tribune News Service photo

Coeur à la Creme

1 1/4 cups heavy cream

2 tablespoons sugar

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 pinch kosher salt

1 cup plain whole-milk Greek yogurt

1 tablespoon honey

1 pint fresh raspberries

Strawberry sauce (recipe follows)

If you have one of those lovely porcelain coeur à la creme molds, use that. If not, choose a fine-mesh strainer. Set mold on a rimmed baking sheet or suspend strainer over a bowl. Cut a 14-inch length of cheesecloth. Run cheesecloth under cold water and squeeze dry. Un-crumple cloth and line mold (or strainer) with it, leaving an overhang.

Pour the heavy cream into bowl of a stand mixer fitted with whisk attachment. Drop in the sugar, vanilla and salt. Whip to soft peaks, for about 2 minutes.

Into mixer bowl, spoon the yogurt and honey. Whip, stopping and scraping down sides once, until smoothly blended and beautifully fluffy, for about 1 minute.

Scrape cream mixture into mold. Fold up cheesecloth overhang to cover cream. Slide mold (along with its drip-catching sheet or bowl) into fridge. Let drain, pouring off accumulated liquid now and then, for 12 to 24 hours. This wait both firms texture and mellows flavors.

Unfold cheesecloth. Set a serving platter over mold and invert mold onto platter. Peel off cheesecloth. Scatter platter with a few of the raspberries, and serve the sauce separately. Or spoon brilliant sauce around pale cream heart. Scatter sauce with whole raspberries. Enjoy.

Makes 1 (7-inch) heart-shaped cream dessert, about 6 servings.

STRAWBERRY SAUCE: In a blender jar or food-processor bowl, heap 2 pints hulled strawberries, 2 tablespoons sugar and 1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice. Swirl to a pulp. Press through a fine-mesh strainer. Discard solids. If working ahead, cover and chill.

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Cool, creamy flan a fine finish for Spanish feast

The Whole Dish podcast: Medford chef imparts a few tips for foolproof flan

Before my husband’s recent trip to Spain, an evening at Ashland’s Irvine & Roberts Vineyards treated us to some Spanish cuisine.

Bringing recipes from the menu at Elements, Medford’s tapas bar, chef Mike Hite demonstrated a start-to-finish meal of Spanish classics. Salad with Serrano ham and Marcona almonds, potato- and pepper-packed tortilla and grilled lamb “lollipops” paired with the winery’s estate chardonnay and pinot noir. The icing on the proverbial cake, of course, was flan, deftly prepared before the other courses and left to set for the next hour.

While he worked, Hite shared plenty of professional-kitchen tips. He likes to simmer caramel, for example, in a wide skillet, instead of a saucepan, because it darkens more quickly and he can monitor it more closely. He also chills his caramel-coated mold, or ramekins in this case, in the freezer for about 15 minutes while making the custard to spoon on top.

Although it does take a watchful eye to keep the caramel from burning and a bit of finesse to temper the eggs with hot milk, the recipe has just a few ingredients and is sure to please anyone’s palate. Here is a version that accompanied a recent story on Spanish cuisine in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Read more about events at Irvine & Roberts and Hite’s Spanish feast in the upcoming issue of Southern Oregon Wine Scene.

Tribune News Service photo

Flan

1 cup granulated sugar, divided

2 1/2 cups whole milk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

4 large eggs

Preheat oven to 325 F.

In a stainless-steel saucepan over medium heat, combine 1/2 cup of the sugar and 1/4 cup water. When syrup starts to bubble and color, swirl pan to spread caramel evenly, and then cook until it turns a deep amber, swirling quickly (watch it, as it can turn too dark very quickly, which will result in a bitter taste). Immediately pour caramel into a heatproof mold (such as a bowl) that holds at least 4 1/2 cups, turning and tilting mold to coat bottom and sides. Do this quickly because caramel hardens quickly.

In a separate saucepan over medium heat, combine the milk, vanilla and remaining 1/2 cup sugar; slowly bring to a simmer, stirring to dissolve sugar. Remove from heat and cool for 10 minutes.

In a large bowl, lightly beat the eggs with a fork or whisk. Gradually beat in milk mixture, a ladleful at a time, until well-blended. Pour into caramel-lined mold.

Place mold in a large baking pan and pour enough boiling water into baking pan to come halfway up sides of mold. Bake in preheated for 1 hour, or until custard has set. Take mold out of pan of water and let it cool; then chill in refrigerator, covered in plastic wrap, for at least 3 hours or overnight.

Just before you are ready to serve, turn flan out of mold: Run a small, pointed knife all around edges of mold, place a serving dish on top of mold (there will be a lot of caramel sauce, so dish should be deep enough to collect it), and quickly turn upside down. Lift off mold.

Makes 6 servings.

Recipe from “The Food of Spain,” by Claudia Roden.

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Simply sauteed ‘shrooms make perfect small plate

Paella has prompted the most recent posts to this blog, inspired by outdoor-cooking season and my husband’s recent trip to Spain.

While paella is party food, incorporating a variety of ingredients to feed a crowd, much simpler fare is the Spanish mainstay. Tapas, of course, are small plates, frequently featuring just a single item, prepared without a lot of fuss or extraneous flavors. Just some good-quality olive oil, garlic, a dash of peppers and sprinkle of fresh herbs often are all that’s needed to accent fish or shellfish, seasonal produce or specialties of the region.

Among some stellar examples of tapas are these sautéed mushrooms, offered with a recent story about Spanish food in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, from “The Food of Spain,” by Claudia Roden. Feel free to substitute any mushroom, including cremini, oyster or even late-season morels, if you have them. The method ensures that even common button mushrooms, however, are delectable. Serve this with good, crusty bread.

Tribune News Service photo

Mushrooms With Garlic

1/2 pound button (white) mushrooms

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

4 to 5 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped or sliced

1/2 teaspoon crushed red-pepper flakes (optional)

Salt and pepper, to taste

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice, or 1/4 cup dry white wine

2 tablespoons chopped, fresh flat-leaf parsley

Wipe any dirt off the mushrooms. If necessary, trim stems and rinse them briefly under cold water. Cut in half, or in quarters if they are large.

Heat the oil in a large skillet. Add the mushrooms, garlic and crushed red pepper, if using, and sauté over medium-high heat, stirring and turning mushrooms until they absorb oil and then release it and their juices.

Add the lemon juice or wine, lower heat, and cook until mushrooms are very soft and juices have almost evaporated, so oil is sizzling. In all, cooking may take 15 to 20 minutes.

Stir in the parsley and serve hot or at room temperature.

Makes 4 servings.

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Go ahead: Toss some peas in your seafood paella

Paella, featured in this blog’s previous post, often is presented in the United States almost like an “everything pizza,” to quote a recent article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Whereas American attempts at this Spanish staple may boast sausage, chicken, shrimp, mollusks, tomatoes, olives, peppers and peas all in the same dish, Spanish versions contain many fewer ingredients. Food writer Daniel Neman confirms that the most traditional recipe from Valencia uses rabbit and snails. So he, unapologetically, used seafood instead. And contrary to experts’ assertions that real paella never contains peas, he threw those in, too.

Here is the Post-Dispatch’s adaptation from a popular Spanish cookbook.

Tribune News Service photo

Paella de Simone Ortega

12 ounces raw shrimp, shells on

2 cups chicken stock

2 pounds mussels or 1 pound littleneck, steamer or cherrystone clams

3/4 cup olive oil or much less, as necessary

1 small onion, peeled and finely chopped

1 garlic clove, peeled and finely chopped

3 tablespoons tomato sauce, or 1 large, ripe tomato, chopped

2 small squid, cut into 1/4-inch rings

2 1/2 cups long-grain rice

3 sprigs fresh parsley

Pinch of saffron threads

1 cup fresh or frozen peas

1 red bell pepper, seeded and cut into strips

Salt, as needed

Lemon wedges, for serving

Peel the shrimp and reserve shells. Set shrimp aside. Put shells into a pan, add the chicken stock (and water, if necessary) to cover, and simmer for about 10 minutes. Strain stock into a bowl, discarding shells. If using mussels that have not been precleaned, scrape shells with blade of a knife and remove “beards,” then scrub under cold running water. If using clams, scrub under cold, running water. Discard any clams or mussels with broken shells or any that do not shut immediately when sharply tapped.

Put cleaned clams or mussels in a pan or skillet, add 1/4 cup water, cover and cook over high heat for 3 to 6 minutes, until shells have opened. Remove mussels or clams with a slotted spoon, reserving cooking liquid. Discard any shells that remain closed. Remove nearly all mussels and clams from their shells, but leave a few in shell for garnish.

Strain reserved cooking stock into shrimp stock, using a strainer lined with cheesecloth or paper towels. Add enough water, if necessary, to make 7 1/2 cups. Pour into a pot and heat gently, but do not let boil.

Preheat oven to 350 F. Pour just enough of the oil into a paella pan or very large, heavy skillet with a metal handle to cover base and heat it. Add the onion and garlic and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned, for about 7 minutes. Add the tomato sauce or fresh tomato and cook, stirring continuously, for a few minutes.

Reserve a few shrimp for garnish and add remainder to pan with the squid rings and rice. Cook, stirring continuously, until squid becomes opaque. Add shelled mussels or clams. Season with a pinch of the salt and pour in hot stock. Gently shake pan to make sure liquid is evenly distributed.

Pound the parsley with the saffron in a mortar, or process in a mini-food processor. Mix in with 2 tablespoons water, and add to paella pan. Add the peas. Gently stir with a wooden spoon. Garnish paella with the strips of red bell pepper, reserved shrimp and reserved shellfish in shells.

Cook in preheated oven for about 25 minutes. Let stand for 5 minutes before serving. Serve with the lemon wedges hung over side of pan.

Makes 8 servings.

Recipe adapted by Tribune News Service from “1080 Recipes,” by Simone and Inés Ortega.

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    Sarah Lemon

    Sarah Lemon covers the Rogue Valley’s food scene with an enthusiasm that rivals her love of cooking. Her blog mixes culinary musings and milestones with tips and recipes you won’t find in the Mail Tribune’s weekly A la Carte section. When ... Read Full
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