Monthly Archives: August 2014

Okra on the Side

Fresh okra has probably caught your attention at the farmers’ market this summer.  It has certainly caught mine…

okra 1

If you would like to enjoy this summertime treat without committing to a gumbo, try it as a side dish with another summer star – cherry tomatoes.

To prepare this simple and healthy side, slice a pint of okra into chunks on a bias and halve a cup of cherry tomatoes.  Sauté the okra slices in two tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil in a non-stick pan.  This small quantity of olive oil may seem like it is not enough, but it will permit the edges of the okra to brown.  It will also enable the okra to retain its crispness rather than become too slimy.

Sauté for about seven to eight minutes while moving the okra around the pan with a wooden spatula.  Add the tomatoes and cook for another two to three minutes until they are slightly softened.  Season with sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste.  I also recommend some Aleppo pepper for its medium heat and somewhat salty taste.

Serve immediately and enjoy okra’s pleasant crunch and unique flavor.

okra 2

Paella – A Dish Fit for a Summer Dinner Party

If you are looking for a centerpiece for a summer dinner party, consider a paella.  The variety of ingredients – chicken, shellfish, vegetables, chorizo – will appeal to all taste buds and will surely wow your guests.  Below is my recipe that will serve six to eight.

Ingredients:

¼ cup achiote oil (made from heating achiote seeds in olive oil until the oil turns a rich red) or extra virgin olive oil

12 chicken thighs, bone-in and skinned

3 chorizo, cut into ½ inch slices

1 jar Goya Sofrito

2½ cups Bomba rice or Arborio rice

16 ounces clam juice

48 ounces chicken broth

24 large shrimp, shelled and de-veined

18 littleneck clams (and/or 18 mussels)

6 squid bodies, sliced into rings

½ of a 10 ounce package of frozen peas, defrosted

4 peppers, sliced (use a mix of red, orange and yellow peppers)

Sea salt

Fresh ground pepper

The ideal pan to prepare paella is a paellera – a large, round pan with two handles.  The pan is also very shallow to enable the rice to cook uniformly.  If you do not have a paellera, you may use any pan that will cook the rice evenly, such as a roasting pan.

I prefer to cook paella on the grill rather than the stove as the grill will accommodate the size of the paellera.  The grill also retains the heat so that the rice forms a crunchy ring around the outer edge of the pan.

Heat the grill to medium-high.  When the grill is heated, place the paellera on the grill and pour the oil in the paellera.  Once the oil is hot, place the chicken thighs in the paellera and season with salt and pepper.  Brown the chicken on both sides.  As you are cooking the paella, rotate the paellera periodically so that the ingredients cook uniformly.

After the chicken is browned, add the chorizo and peppers and cook until the chorizo is lightly browned and the peppers soften.  Stir in the rice so that the rice is coated with the oil.  Pour in enough clam juice and chicken stock to cover the rice by about ¼ inch.  You may need to adjust the amounts of juice and stock listed above.  Stir in the sofrito.  Turn the heat to high and let cook until the liquid is almost entirely absorbed by the rice and the rice is tender.

Turn the heat down to medium and nestle the shellfish into the rice.  First add the shrimp, then the clams/mussels.  The shrimp are cooked when they are white and no longer translucent.  This will take just a few minutes.  The clams/mussels are cooked when their shells open.  Discard any clams/mussels that do not open.

While the shellfish are cooking, scatter the peas over the paella.  The rice around the perimeter of the paellera should be browning and crisping during the cooking process.  When everything is cooked, add the squid.  The squid is added at the very end as it will only take about 2 minutes to cook.  In order for squid to be tender, it must be cooked very quickly.  When the squid turns white, test it to make sure that it is cooked.  Remove the paellera from the grill and serve immediately at the table.  Enjoy!

Final Paella

Grilled Eggplant and Ricotta Makes for a Simple Summer Appetizer

I recently wrote about a very simple way to prepare eggplant in my post, “Fresh from the Farm Stand”.  Most frequently during the summer, I grill eggplant as a side dish after marinating it in extra virgin olive oil and sea salt.  (The small round Sicilian eggplants are my favorite!)

The steps are simple…First, slice the eggplant into rounds of about 1/6 to 1/4 inch thick.  Then, place a layer of slices in a large baking dish and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and a healthy sprinkle of sea salt.  Repeat with additional layers until all slices are topped with both oil and salt.  The purpose of the salt it to extract the liquid that causes the eggplant’s bitterness.  Let the slices marinate for about one hour prior to grilling.  Grill the eggplant on medium-low heat, turning the slices with tongues so that they soften and brown.

As an alternative to a side dish, incorporate this eggplant preparation into an appetizer course.  Arrange several slices on a small plate alongside a dollop of ricotta cheese.  Drizzle the ricotta with extra virgin olive oil and top with fresh ground pepper and finishing salt.  Fresh herbs, such as basil, make for a colorful addition to this tasty starter.

Eggplant and Ricotta