Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Strawberries with Balsamic and Basil

This simple strawberry salad is one of my favorite ways to end a meal. Especially now, when the days are long, warm, and the markets are overflowing with super ripe sweet berries and fruit. Best of all, this dessert is as delicious as as it is beautiful, and it requires zero baking, measuring, and very little time.

Balsamic macerated strawberries are a classic, and yet I've met many who have never tried them. The acidity and murky sweetness of the balsamic (real, good balsamic - read the bottle carefully, make sure it doesn't have artificial coloring or high fructose corn syrup) goes so nicely with the perfectly ripe summer strawberries. I also added juice from an orange, and fresh mint in addition to basil - both those ingredients did something special to the salad. Really, you can mix and match any of the ingredients below and you'll have something that's sooo good. At the end of the day, how can you go wrong with fresh strawberries and cream?

Strawberries with Balsamic, Basil, and Mint, served with Mascarpone Topping
Serves 6

3 pints strawberries, lightly rinsed and dry
3 tablespoons very good aged balsamic vinegar (or to taste, depends on your vinegar)
Juice of 1/2 an orange
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar (or to taste)
8-10 basil leaves, sliced thin (i.e. a chiffonade)
5-6 large mint leaves, chopped fine
1 cup mascarpone
1 tablespoon half and half
1 teaspoon maple syrup.

Slice your berries into halves or quarters, depending on the berry's size and your preference. Add them to a bowl. Add the balsamic vinegar, orange juice and sugar to the berries. Gently toss the berries. Add the basil and mint to the coated berries, lightly toss again. Be careful not to bruise the berries too much. Let the berries for marinate for at least 30 minutes or up to 3 hours.

In a small bowl, combine the mascarpone, half and half, and maple syrup.

Guests can top their serving of berries with a dollop of the very lightly sweetened mascarpone.

The berries should be eaten the same day you make them. They'll last for an afternoon or an evening, but not much more than that. I hardly expect you'll have leftovers.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Marinated Red Bell Peppers

I am a sucker for anything pickled or preserved, and I'm a sucker for my grandmother's cooking She serves these marinated red peppers at dinner nearly every night. These peppers are a nice tangy, garlicky, accompaniment to any meal. I really like them alongside fish or chicken. They would make a great topping for a hot dog on the 4th of July.

I use white vinegar in the recipe because that's what my grandmother uses. I've only changed the recipe slightly, and next time I make these I'll try them out with red wine vinegar. Also, my grandmother usually makes these with a mixture of red and orange peppers. I picked up some lovely red peppers at the farmer's market, but I didn't see any orange ones. Use what you have. Green peppers will not taste as good because they are not as sweet. According to Baba, the exact measurements aren't important, and this recipe is as simple as something roasted and marinated can get.

As I mentioned, these guys are tangy AND garlicky. If you're not into garlic, skip it or add less. If you just started dating someone and you are making that person dinner for the first time, maybe don't serve them this recipe for that meal. Actually, do serve them this recipe. Garlic breath is cancelled out when both people have it. Just make sure you both eat the peppers.

Marinated Red Bell Peppers with Garlic

3-4 large red (or orange) bell peppers
3 cloves of garlic, sliced
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 teaspoon kosher salt
pinch of sugar
1/2 cup white vinegar
3-4 tablespoons good extra virgin olive oil

Preheat the oven to 425°F.

Lay your peppers out on a foil or parchment lined sheet tray or baking dish. Poke a few holes in each pepper with a small knife, so that the peppers can let out steam as they cook. Place the peppers in the oven for 30-40 minutes, or until blackened, softened, and until the skin gets wrinkly and starts to peel off. It helps to flip the peppers over halfway through the cooking process.

Once cooked, transfer the peppers to a clean paper bag and let them continue to steam and then cool for 20-30 minutes.You can use a plastic bag, but I prefer paper. Sometimes, I'm too impatient to let the peppers steam and then also cool, and I try to peel the peppers while they're hot and have barely steamed. This is dumb on my part. 1) They're harder to peel. 2) They're super hot. Patience is helpful here.

Over a bowl, peel the peppers. If any juice escapes while you are peeling the peppers, save the juice. It is gold. Remove the stems and seeds from the peppers. Again, do this over a bowl or a plate and reserve any juices that have collected inside the pepper.

Slice the peeled peppers into strips. Add the peppers to the bowl of their reserved juices. Add the sliced garlic, peppercorns, salt and sugar to the peppers. Mix them about with your fingers. Cover the peppers with white vinegar. Add the olive oil. Let the peppers marinate overnight before serving. You can also transfer the peppers and their liquids to the jar and store them in that. Peppers will keep (but won't last) for 7-10 days.

Serve as a side salad to any savory meal. Or eat them on their own straight out of the bowl/jar.