Thursday, July 31, 2008

Recipes for Sausage and Lentils with Spiced Figs & Crostini with Gorgonzola and Spiced Figs

It’s nearly August and the peas are just coming into bloom. Usually, we’d've been eating them for weeks, but this year the weather has been unseasonably cold and rainy. The local newspaper is referring to it as “the so-called summer of ‘08.”

Blame it on La Niña. When the ocean off Peru is 2 to 4 degrees lower than normal, as it has been this year, the “La Niña” weather pattern brings cool weather to Alaska.

Most food sold here comes from “outside,” the Alaska word for the world beyond our state. Walking through supermarket produce sections, full to the gunnels with summer fruits and vegetables, it’s clear that outsiders are enjoying summer weather.

Last week Costco had pallet-loads of fresh fruit from California, including the first figs of the season to arrive in Alaska. I’m a sucker for figs, and these were in perfect condition.

We ate them plain, stuffed with cheese, and wrapped in prosciutto. But with the final six figs, in honor of our “so-called summer,” I wanted to make something warming.

Time to pull out one of the recipes on my “must try someday” list: Sausages and Lentils with Spiced Figs from Diana Henry’s book Crazy Water, Pickled Lemons.

The combination of sausages, lentils, and spiced figs was wonderful. Even my husband, who typically doesn’t like fruit and meat together, thought the figs added terrific flavor to the dish. It was one of those meals where I actively enjoyed every bite.

The recipe made more figs than we could eat in one meal. The leftovers were a fortuitous kitchen bonus that I used to make Crostini with Gorgonzola and Spiced Figs.

The piquant flavor of blue cheese blended seamlessly with the spiced figs. It was so good I want always to keep a jar of spiced figs in the refrigerator for quick and easy last-minute appetizers. Each bite was a flavor revelation.

Sausages and Lentils with Spiced FigsSausages and Lentils with Spiced Figs
Serves 4
Adapted from Crazy Water, Pickled Lemons: Enchanting Dishes from the Middle East, Mediterranean and North Africa by Diana Henry (Mitchell Beazley 2002)
Spiced figs enhance the flavors of earthy lentils and succulent sausage. Be sure to serve the figs in a bowl on the side, so diners can eat as many or as few as they like. Although I modified Diana’s sausage and lentil recipe for our palates (the below recipe is as modified), I followed her directions for the spiced figs. They were delicious, though next time I’ll simplify the recipe by using equal quantities of red and balsamic vinegars; sherry vinegar’s flavor is lost in the mix. Not all figs need to be peeled; I peel only when the fig skins are beat-up or unusually thick.

Spiced Figs:
12 – 15 fresh figs
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup sherry vinegar
1/2 cup sugar
1 cinnamon stick

Sausages and Lentils:
3 pieces thick-cut bacon
4 bratwurst or other fresh pork sausages
2 cups diced onions (1/2” dice)
1/2 cup diced carrots (1/4” dice)
Freshly ground black pepper
1 cup small lentils, such as Puy or beluga
1 Tbsp. minced fresh garlic
1 Tbsp. minced fresh rosemary
1 cup white wine
3 - 4 cups chicken stock

Make the Spiced Figs: Peel the figs, if necessary, and cut them in half. Mix the vinegars, sugar, and cinnamon stick in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Turn the heat to medium-low and simmer for 5 minutes. Add the figs, cut side down and simmer for 5 minutes. Turn off the heat, turn the figs over, and let them cool in the saucepan.

Make the Sausages and Lentils: Cut the bacon into thin, cross-cut strips. In a large pot, cook the bacon until it’s crispy. Remove the bacon pieces with a slotted spoon and let drain on paper towels. Brown the sausages on all sides (there’s no need to cook them through) and remove to a plate.

In the same pan, sauté the onions and carrots, lightly seasoned with salt and freshly ground black pepper, in the bacon fat, being sure to scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. When the onions soften and start to turn golden, stir in the lentils, garlic, and rosemary and cook for 1 minute. Add the wine, 3 cups chicken stock, bacon, sausages, salt and freshly ground black pepper, and bring to a boil. Turn down the heat to medium-low and simmer for 30 – 45 minutes or until the lentils are tender but not mushy. If the lentils dry out as they cook, add the remaining stock. When the lentils are done, taste and add salt or freshly ground black pepper, as needed.

Serve immediately with the spiced figs in a bowl on the side.

Crostini with Gorgonzola and Spiced FigsCrostini with Gorgonzola and Spiced Figs

If you keep spiced figs as a refrigerator staple, this appetizer can be quickly put together for 2 or 20.

Thinly sliced artisan-style bread
Gorgonzola or other blue cheese
Spiced figs (see above recipe)

Lightly toast the bread and cut into 2" pieces. Spread it with gorgonzola. Top with a piece of spiced fig.

This is my entry for My Legume Love Affair: Second Helping, an event created and hosted by Susan from The Well-Seasoned Cook. The deadline for legume entries is August 24.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Garden Treasure with 4 Recipes for Arugula: with Eggs, in Salads, and in Pasta Sauce (4 Συνταγές για Ρόκα)

Arugula SelveticaArugula (also known as Roka, Roquette, and Rocket) wins my garden’s miracle plant of the year award.

We’ve grown arugula often over the years. We usually get a salad or two before it bolts; a common problem in Alaska. With our long days, nearly 20 hours of daylight at the solstice, many herbs and green vegetables go to seed prematurely.

Despite its tendency to bolt, we grow arugula because we enjoy its bite in salads. Last year, the arugula followed its typical pattern: two salads at the beginning of summer and it bolted. I assumed that was it. I was wrong.

This spring, after the snow melted, we noticed radicchio we’d harvested last year, but hadn’t pulled up, coming back. In the same bed, mystery plants were emerging; they had tiny green leaves growing around slender dead stalks.

We had no idea what they were (I guessed domesticated Italian dandelions we grew last year in the same bed), but let them grow so we could find out. As the plants grew larger, I realized last year’s arugula had wintered over.

I was initially confused, as I’d thought arugula was an annual (Eruca vesicaria subspecies sativa). Although I'd only grown annual arugula, it turns out “arugula,” actually refers to three separate plants: E. vesicaria ssp. sativa, Diplotaxis tenuifolia, and Diplotaxis muralis.

Last year we planted arugula seeds brought back from Greece. When I dug out the seed packet, I discovered it was Diplotaxis tenuifola, also known as wild arugula or Selvetica, an extremely cold hardy perennial (as plants must be to survive Alaskan winters). I’m thrilled to have stumbled upon it, and will give it a permanent place in my garden.

Arugula in the GardenMost commonly I use arugula in mixed green salads, or on its own with blue cheese and best quality balsamic vinegar. This year the arugula was so prolific I branched out. Arugula, briefly sautéed with shallots, adds a nice bite to omelets and frittatas. Mixed with tomatoes and anchovies, it makes a delicious pasta sauce.

My mother, upon hearing of my arugula glut, recommended the wonderful Arugula and Tomato Salad from Carol Field’s
In Nonna’s Kitchen: Recipes and Traditions from Italy’s Grandmothers. Mother was right; arugula goes really well with tomatoes.

Anchovies are the secret ingredient that makes both the salad and pasta sauce special. When minced and incorporated into other ingredients, anchovies add flavor without overwhelming the taste buds.

More Arugula Recipes:
Grilled Radicchio and Arugula Salad with Parmesan Shavings
Watermelon, Feta, and Arugula Salad

Arugula and Eggs
Arugula and Eggs
Serves 2 – 4

4 large eggs
1 cup diced shallots, 1/4” dice
Freshly ground black pepper
1 Tbsp. olive oil
4 packed cups cleaned arugula
3/4 grated kasseri or fontina cheese
1/4 cup minced chives

Crack the eggs in a bowl, season lightly with salt and freshly ground black pepper, and whisk to combine.

Sauté the shallots, lightly seasoned with salt and freshly ground black pepper, in olive oil until they soften and start to turn golden. Add the arugula, in batches if necessary, and cook just until all the arugula has wilted.

Evenly distribute the arugula in the pan and pour the eggs over. Cover and turn the heat down to low. Keep checking the eggs and when they’re almost-but-not-quite set, sprinkle the cheese and minced chives over, cover, and cook until the cheese melts.

Sprinkle with freshly ground black pepper, cut into wedges, and serve.

Arugula and Tomato Salad
Arugula and Tomato Salad
Serves 4

Adapted from In Nonna’s Kitchen: Recipes and Traditions from Italy’s Grandmothers by Carol Field (HarperCollins 1997)
Lightly salting the tomatoes helps bring out their flavor, but be careful not to overdo as anchovies can be quite salty. I made this with the smaller amount of anchovies, but we both thought it would benefit from more; next time I’ll use the larger amount. I originally made this with whole anchovies, as shown in the picture, but we prefer the salad when the anchovies are minced in the dressing. Either way, it's tasty.

8 medium tomatoes, sliced 1/2” thick
1/4 cup olive oil
2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
Freshly ground black pepper
8 - 16 anchovy fillets (1 - 2 ounces)
2 cups thinly cut shreds of arugula

Divide the tomato slices between 4 salad plates and salt lightly. Whisk the olive oil into the red wine vinegar and season with freshly ground black pepper. Mince the anchovy fillets and mix them into the dressing. Taste and add freshly ground black pepper or salt as needed. Toss the dressing and arugula (there may be leftover dressing), and mound on the tomatoes. Serve immediately.

Arugula, Blue Cheese, and Balsamic Salad
Arugula, Blue Cheese, and Balsamic Salad
Serves 4

I never tire of this tasty salad. Because there are so few ingredients, it’s important to use best quality balsamic vinegar.

4 packed cups arugula
1/2 cup thinly sliced red onion
1/4 crumbled Roquefort or other blue cheese
2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp. best quality balsamic vinegar
Freshly ground black pepper

Wash and dry the arugula and tear large leaves into pieces. Add the arugula, red onion, and half the blue cheese to a salad bowl. Whisk together the olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt, and freshly ground black pepper. Toss the dressing with the salad ingredients. Taste and add more balsamic vinegar, if needed. Sprinkle with the remaining blue cheese, grate freshly ground black pepper over the salad, and serve.

Arugula, Anchovy, and Tomato with OrecchietteArugula, Anchovy, and Tomato Sauce with Orecchiette
Serves 4
This recipe calls for a large quantity of arugula, which I measured after it had been cleaned and roughly chopped. If you don’t have arugula, dandelions or other wild greens are the best substitute; the dish may also be made with radicchio, Swiss chard or spinach. Toast the pine nuts in a 350°F oven or dry frying pan. In either case, pine nuts burn easily and must be watched carefully as they cook. Onions cook more evenly when lightly salted before sautéing, however, anchovies are salty so be sure not to over-salt the onions.

1/2 pound dried
orecchiette or any other pasta
2 cups diced onion, 1/2” dice
2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
16 anchovy fillets (2 ounces)
1 Tbsp. minced garlic
1 tsp. Aleppo pepper or 1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
1/2 pound cleaned and roughly chopped arugula or other strong-flavored greens
2 cups diced fresh tomato, 3/4” dice
1/3 cup water
1 cup chopped green onions
3/4 - 1 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts

Cook the pasta in boiling, salted water and cook until it is al dente. Drain the pasta and toss with a little olive oil.

Sauté the onions, lightly seasoned with salt and freshly ground black pepper, in olive oil until they soften and start to turn golden. Add the anchovies, garlic, and Aleppo pepper and cook for one minute. Stir in the arugula, tomatoes, and water, and cook for 3 minutes. Add the cooked pasta and green onions, and cook just until the pasta is warmed through. Toss with 1/2 cup cheese and half the pine nuts. Sprinkle with the remaining cheese and pine nuts and serve immediately.

This is my entry for Weekend Herb Blogging, hosted this week by Kelly from Sounding My Barbaric Gulp.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Recipes for Crispy Zucchini Flowers with Cheesy Potato-Basil Stuffing & Radish Horta (Κολοκυθοανθοί Γεμιστοί με Τύρι, Πατάτες, και Βασιλικός & Χόρτα)

Stuffed Zucchini FlowersZucchini flowers are a seasonal treat that appear only briefly. Every year, I look forward to their arrival.

The flowers are fragile so must be used soon after picking. As a result, the only zucchini flowers available in Alaska are sold at farmer’s markets or grown in home gardens.

I was thrilled to arrive at the farmer’s market this morning and find a profusion of zucchini flowers. I immediately grabbed a bag and started picking out perfect specimens.

While I was making my selection, three different people asked me how to use the flowers. “Fry them in tempura batter, stuff them and fry them, cook them like stuffed grape leaves, cut them up and put in frittatas or omelets…,” I drifted off as the questioners’ eyes glazed over.

Besides the zucchini flowers, I also bought fresh basil. Waiting in line to pay, I imagined a stuffing for the flowers flavored with basil and cheese. The flavor of this stuffing was crystal clear in my imagination; I couldn’t wait to try it out.

The result was worthy of the year’s first zucchini flowers. The beer batter was light and very crispy, and contrasted wonderfully with the creamy potato-based stuffing. Basil contributed its herby essence, while the cheese tied all the flavors together.

To round out the meal, I made Horta, a traditional Greek dish of boiled greens dressed with olive oil and lemon. Any variety of edible greens may be cooked as Horta. Tonight I used fresh radish leaves, a tasty green that too often ends up in the garbage.

Part of the reason radish greens aren’t often eaten may be their fuzzy surface. I suspect a more important reason is the leaves of supermarket radishes are usually so beat up they’re no longer worth eating.

Garden fresh radish greens are definitely worth eating. When they’re tiny, and before they get too fuzzy, radish greens make a spicy addition to fresh salads. Once they get older, I prefer cooking the greens to improve their texture and mouth feel.

For more information about cooking with zucchini flowers, my friend Maria of
Organically Cooked in Hania, Crete, uses them often: baked in the oven, stuffed and cooked with grape leaves, stuffed and cooked with stuffed tomatoes and peppers, and added to a green onion pie.

Crispy Stuffed Zucchini FlowersCrispy Zucchini Flowers with Cheesy Potato-Basil Stuffing (Κολοκυθοανθοί Γεμιστοί με Τύρι, Πατάτες, και Βασιλικός)
Serves 4 as an appetizer or 2 as a main course
Bringing frying oil to the correct temperature helps protects against greasy food. To keep the oil at temperature, don’t fry more than four stuffed flowers at a time.

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
2 cups beer

3/4 pound potatoes (1 large)
1/2 cup freshly grated kasseri or fontina cheese
1/4 cup freshly grated kefalotyri or parmesan cheese
1/4 cup milk or half-and-half
1/4 cup basil
chiffonade (cut in thin shreds)
Freshly ground black pepper

8 large zucchini flowers
Oil for frying (I use canola oil)

Make the Batter: Mix the batter ingredients until they are smooth. Refrigerate while you make the stuffing and fill the zucchini flowers.

Make the Stuffing: Wash the potatoes and boil in salted water until you can easily pierce them with a fork. Drain well. Mash the potatoes with a fork and add the remaining stuffing ingredients. Mash again until the stuffing is creamy and the ingredients well-mixed.

Prepare the Zucchini Flowers: Gently brush any dirt off the flowers; don’t get them wet or they’ll be impossible to handle. Stand one zucchini flower up in a small glass, jar, or vase. Open the zucchini flowers and remove any garden hitchhikers inside. Leave the stem attached; it makes dipping the stuffed flowers in batter and adding them to the hot oil easier. I used to remove the stamens, as many people do, but now I leave them in and think they add good flavor.

How to Stuff Zucchini FlowersStuff the Zucchini Flowers: Spread the flower opening so it’s wide enough to accept the large tip of a pastry bag or the cut-off corner of a sturdy plastic bag. Fill the bag with stuffing mix and pipe it into the zucchini flower. Fold three of the five flower points over the stuffing, leaving the remaining two points loose. Repeat with the remaining zucchini flowers. The flowers can be made several hours ahead to this point and refrigerated until ready to cook.

Fry the Stuffed Flowers: Heat 3/4” of oil in a Dutch oven until it is 350°F – 360°F. Dip the stuffed zucchini flowers in batter and fry until the flowers are nicely browned on both sides, turning them halfway through. Drain on paper towels. Serve immediately.

Radish HortaRadish Horta (Χόρτα)
Serves 1
Multiply the recipe as many times as you like; the point is greens from one bunch of radishes only serve one person. Any edible green may be cooked and served this way. The greens will taste fresher if you add lemon juice at the last minute.

Greens from one bunch of radishes
Olive Oil
Fresh lemon juice

Wash the greens very carefully, discarding any damaged leaves or stems. Cook the greens in boiling salted water for 3 – 5 minutes, or until they are just tender. The cooking time varies depending on the age of the greens, so don’t overcook.

Drain well. While the greens are hot, dress them with extra virgin olive oil and salt to taste; this helps merge the flavors of greens and olive oil. Just before serving, drizzle fresh lemon juice over the greens and toss well. Serve hot or at room temperature.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Recipe for Salmon "Kleftiko" (Σολομός Κλέφτικος) and Kleftiko: Its Modern Meaning

During the Greek War of Independence against the Ottoman Turks, Klefts were irregular guerilla fighters. Among their many feats, Klefts famously stole sheep and roasted them slowly over buried fires. This trick prevented the Ottomans from smelling meat and finding the guerillas.

Kleftiko is a lamb dish named after the Klefts’ cooking style. Traditionally, the meat was cooked in buried lamb skins or clay pots. In modern versions of kleftiko, lamb, vegetables, and seasonings are wrapped tightly in foil or parchment paper, and slowly cooked in the oven. The meat ends up succulent, with all its flavor sealed inside the packet.

Instead of using lamb, I employed the same closed-container technique to make Salmon Kleftiko. Salmon cooks quickly, so it doesn't need to be cooked at low temperature for a long time, as does lamb.

Salmon Kleftiko is a great dish to make if you’re in a hurry. The packets go together quickly and need bake for only 15 minutes. Even better, there aren’t any pots to clean.

Salmon KeftikoSalmon "Kleftiko" (Σολομός Κλέφτικος)
Serves 6

Foil is easier to work with, but individual parchment paper packets make a more attractive presentation. If using foil packets, plate the salmon and pour the juices over the fish in the kitchen. Parchment paper packets may be delivered directly to the table for individual diners to open (be sure to put an empty plate on the table for discarding the paper packets).

Mediterranean Cooking in Alaska has moved as of March 2011. To read this post please go to

Please click on over and visit my new site. Thank you!

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Recipe for Red Pepper and Tapenade Tart (Πιπερόπιτα με Πάστα Ελιάς)

Workmen have been at the house for a week replacing our ancient furnaces with a new boiler. For the last five hours they’ve been struggling to run long lengths of pipe through a narrow opening in the basement ceiling's sheetrock. The sound made by repeatedly pounding and banging on metal ductwork is impressively loud.

It’s odd to have so much racket during the day; I’m used to a silent house. Mind you, I’m not complaining and am glad we’re having the work done. It’s just interesting how sustained noise interferes with my ability to hold a coherent thought.

When the men left for lunch, blissful silence briefly returned. I took the opportunity to eat in peace, and enjoyed the last of the Red Pepper and Tapenade Tart for lunch. Three days in the refrigerator and it still tasted terrific; this recipe’s a keeper.

Red Pepper and Tapenade TartRed Pepper and Tapenade Tart (Πιπερόπιτα με Πάστα Ελιάς)
Serves 4-6 (one 9” tart)

Mediterranean Cooking in Alaska has moved as of March 2011. To read this post please go to

Please click on over and visit my new site. Thank you!

Summer Doldrums with Recipe for Three Bean and Macaroni Salad with Green Olive Dressing (Φασόλια Σαλάτα με Μακαρονάκι Κοφτό και Πράσινες Ελιές)

Three Bean and Pasta SaladI could come up with a million reasons why I haven’t been blogging. My computer died. Presidential politics captured my attention. Microsoft Vista is the spawn of hell.

All the excuses are true, but the real reason for my absence is that it’s summer in Alaska. The days are long, the garden is gorgeous, and I’m feeling lazy.

The worst part of not blogging is the resulting guilt keeps me from reading my friends’ blogs. Irrational? Definitely. When I was a kid I had to clean my room before I could go out with friends; I learned early that prevarication and deprivation go hand in hand. Now, my need to read favorite blogs has forced me back to the computer.

I'm also backlogged with recipes to write about. Naturally, since I have a giant backlog, I’m ignoring it and writing about the amazing bean and pasta salad I made two days ago.

Generally speaking, I hate pasta salads and think green olives are disgusting. I started making Three Bean and Macaroni Salad solely as a treat for my husband, planning not to eat any of it. But when I tasted the salad for seasoning, I loved it immediately. The dressing is uniquely tangy and delicious, while the beans and pasta balance the dressing’s strong flavors.

Summer Morsels

Our garden greens are growing like crazy and we’ve been enjoying their fresh flavors. I recently made
Plasto, a Greek greens pie with cornbread crust, and enjoyed every bite. If you’re looking for an interesting greens recipe, I highly recommend it.

The salmon run has started and we’ve started restocking our freezer.
Dukkah, an Egyptian spice mix, is great sprinkled over hot-off-the-grill salmon. I also use Dukkah to perk up salmon salad: crumble leftover salmon and mix it with minced onions, minced celery, minced garlic, a little mayonnaise, and a healthy dose of Dukkah. Delicious.

This weekend Costco was selling flats of perfectly ripe figs. Yesterday I quartered and wrapped them in prosciutto for a quick, easy, and addictively good appetizer. If I were alone, I’d have it for dinner.

Three Bean and Pasta SaladThree-Bean and Macaroni Salad with Green Olive Dressing (Φασόλια Σαλάτα με Μακαρονάκι Κοφτό και Πράσινες Ελιές)
Serves 12

Adapted from
Pasta & Co. By Request by Marcella Rosene (Sasquatch Books 1991)
A 10-ounce jar of green olives stuffed with jalapeños has about 25 olives in it. Since the salad is dressed with olive oil rather than mayonnaise, it’s a great salad for bringing to summer potlucks.

1/2 cup dry flageolet beans (or 10 ounces frozen shelled edamame beans)
1/2 cup dry cannellini beans (or 1 15-ounce can cannellini or great northern beans)
1/2 cup dry red kidney beans (or 1 15-ounce can red kidney beans)
2 tsp. salt
8 cloves garlic
40 jalapeño-stuffed green olives or a mixture of jalapeño and plain green olives
3 Tbsp. crushed dried oregano
1 Tbsp. crushed dried thyme
1/4 cup white wine vinegar plus 1-3 Tbsp. as needed
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 cup diced red onion, 1/8” dice
1 cup diced celery, 1/8” dice (preferably
leaf celery)
1/2 pound tubetti, mini-penne, elbow macaroni, or other salad macaroni
Freshly ground black pepper

If using dried beans, spread them out in a pan and inspect carefully, removing any pebbles or debris. Soak the three kinds of dried beans in cold water overnight. Drain the soaked beans and rinse with cold water. Add the soaked beans to a large pot of water, bring to a boil, cover, turn down the heat, and simmer for 30 minutes. Add 2 tsp. salt and continue to simmer until the beans are tender but not mushy. When the beans are done, drain and put them in a large bowl.

If using canned beans, rinse well, drain, and put them in a large bowl. Thaw the edamame beans and add them to the bowl.

While the beans are cooking, pulse the garlic in a food processor to mince. Add the olives, oregano, thyme, and 1/4 cup vinegar, and pulse to mince the olives. Add the olive mix, olive oil, onion, and celery to the beans and mix well.

Bring a pot of salted water to a bowl, add the pasta and cook until the pasta is al dente. Drain the pasta, add it to the beans, season with salt and freshly ground black pepper, and mix well. Taste and add the remaining vinegar, salt, and freshly ground black pepper, as needed.

Serve at room temperature. If plating the salad, serve on a bed of greens.

This is my entry for Heart of the Matter: Picnics hosted this month by Joanna of Joanna's Food.