Friday, January 14, 2011

Mediterranean Night

I hope that I can fit everything into one post because I want to tell you all about the extremely post-worthy meal the other night!

So, as I've mentioned, 'Chip' (heh heh) and I have been getting together once a month (along with (my) Offspring and her hubby) and preparing themed dinners.  This month we opted for Mediterranean, and I think I can say it was a smashing success.  Probably my favorite to date.

Here are a couple of photos of 'the spread'.

As a starter, I prepared this mezze platter along with some crackers and flatbread (recipe for that below).  It included:  Moroccan and Italian olives, Baba Ganouj, Toasted hazelnuts, Medjool dates, and Fresh ricotta with lemon zest and honey.

Then we really got serious about eating....

On the menu, from yours truly:

Toasted Parmesan Flatbread and Mezze Platter
Slow-braised Pork with Grapes and Balsamic
Saffron Rice with Pignolis
Flourless Lemon-Almond Cake

And, courtesy of "Chip":

Meyer Lemon Gelato (which paired very nicely with the cake)
Fried Eggplant Balls with Rigatoni (hands down my favorite dish)
Green Beans with Almonds, Onions and Parmesan
Fish Sautéed with Lemon and Olives

I will be using all of these recipes again, most definitely!

Toasted Parmesan Flatbread

1 cup lukewarm water
1 Tbs + 1 tsp extra virgin olive oil
1 pkg active dry yeast
1 tsp sugar
1 1/2 - 2 cups AP flour (next time I think I'll substitute all whole wheat)
1 cup whole wheat flour
3/4 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
1 1/4 tsp salt

Whisk the water, 1 Tbs of oil, sugar and yeast in a mixing bowl bowl. Let sit about 5 minutes, until it starts to get a little foamy.

While the yeast is sitting, assemble dry ingredients (the 1 1/2 cups AP flour, wheat flour, Parmesan and salt).

Add the dry ingredients to the yeast mixture and stir to combine (I used my stand mixer and the dough hook). If it is too sticky to work with, add a little of the remaining 1/2 cup of the flour. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured board and knead for about 5 minutes, adding more flour as needed (I used very little).

Add the remaining tsp of oil to a large bowl, shape the dough into a ball, and place in the bowl, coating with the oil. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit in a warm place for about 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

Punch down the dough and divide into six equal balls (it makes a lovely, soft dough that contracts very little when rolled out). Roll out each ball onto a floured work surface until it’s about seven inches in diameter (and about 1/4" thick).

Preheat a skillet (I used a cast iron grill pan, which added nice markings) over medium heat until it is very hot. Add a very small amount of olive oil (just enough to coat the pan).  Place a dough circle on the heated pan and cook until it starts to bubble up, about 2 minutes.  Rotate to create markings if you're using a grill pan.  Flip over and repeat.

Transfer to a plate or a wire rack and repeat with the remaining dough. You might have to adjust the heat a bit if the bread starts to brown too quickly.
Baba Ganouj
2 medium eggplants, sliced in half lengthwise
Olive Oil
Sea salt
1/4 cup olive oil
2 Tbs. lemon juice
2 Tbs. tahini
2 cloves garlic, coursely chopped
Salt and pepper to taste
Preheat oven to 375º.  Place eggplant halves on a baking sheet, and drizzle the flesh with a good amount of olive oil (a couple of glugs for each).  Season with salt.  Roast for about 20 - 30 minutes, or until meat is cooked through.  Remove from oven and allow to cool.
In a blender, combine olive oil, lemon juice, tahini and garlic.  Peel the skin from the eggplant halves and roughly chop.  Add to blender and season with salt and pepper.  Process to desired consistency.
Green Beans with Almonds, Onions and Parmesan
1/4 cup plus 2 Tbs olive oil
1/2 cup whole raw almonds
1 tsp fleur de sel or other medium-course sea salt
1 lb. green beans, trimmed
5 oz. Parmigiano Reggiano, cut into 1/3 - 1/2" irregular chunks
1 small red onion, thinly sliced or shaved on a mandoline
1/2 cup loosely packed fresh flat-leaf parsley
Heat 2 Tbs oil in a small skillet over medium heat.  Add almonds and cook, shaking the pan back and forth, until almonds are cooked and starting to pop, about 4 minutes.  Remove from heat, sprinkle with 1/2 tsp. salt, and stir.  Remove nuts with slotted spoon and drain on paper towel, then coarsely chop.
Bring a large saucepan of well-salted water to a boil.  Add beans and cook until crisp-tender, about 5 minutes.  Drain, transfer to a large bowl, and immediately toss with remaining 1/4 cup olive oil.
Add cheese, onion and parsley; toss well.  Let sit for a few minutes, then toss with almonds and serve.
** These were fantastic, by the way.  Loved the crispness of the veggies and crunch of the almonds.

Saffron Rice with Pignolis

1/2 cup pignolis (pine nuts)
1 32 oz. carton low-sodium chicken stock (or the homemade equivalent)
About 1/4 - 1/2 tsp saffron threads (just use a decent pinch)
2 cups jasmine rice
Salt and pepper to taste

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, toast the pine nuts just until golden (these tend to burn fast, so keep a close eye on them).  Remove from pan and set aside.

Add chicken broth and saffron to saucepan.  Bring to a simmer, then turn off the heat and allow to steep for about 15 minutes.

Return the saucepan to a medium-high heat, and when it begins to boil, slowly add rice, stirring gently.  Season with salt and pepper.  When the broth comes back to a boil, turn the heat down to medium to medium-low, cover, and cook for 16 - 18 minutes.  Allow to sit for a few minutes, then gently fluff the rice.

Just prior to serving, stir in pine nuts.

Fried Eggplant Balls
2 large eggplant (about 2 3/4 lbs)
1 large egg
2 cups medium-ground fresh breadcrumbs
1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, plus more for garnish
3 Tbs chopped, fresh flat-leaf parsley, plus more for garnish
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 tsp. fine sea salt
Extra-virgin olive oil for shallow frying
Preheat oven to 375º.  Prick each eggplant several times with a fork.  Roast until cooked through, about an hour.  Allow to cool.
Scoop flesh from eggplant halves and place in a fine sieve set over a mixing bowl.  Discard skins.  Drain for 4 hours at room temperature or overnight in the fridge.
Transfer eggplant to food processor (discard juices).  Add egg, breadcrumbs, cheese, parsley, garlic and salt.  Pulse to combine; transfer to a plate or bowl.  Form into 1-inch balls (makes about 40).
Fill a large skillet with 1/4" oil and heat to about 360º.  Using a slotted spoon, add several eggplant balls to oil and cook until golden on all sides, about 5 minutes.  Remove and drain on paper towels.  Repeat with remaining balls.
** "Chip" served these with rigatoni and some olives with just a bit of olive oil and more Parmesan, I think.  Simple, but man, was this good.  And the perfect dish to serve if you have vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike.  You'll make each happy.

The cooked pork with sauce simmering away in the background

Slow-Braised Pork with Grapes and Balsamic

1 4-pound boneless pork shoulder
4 Tbs extra-virgin olive oil, divided

3 large shallots, halved, cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices
3 cups seedless grapes
2 Tbs sugar
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
2 cups low-salt chicken broth
2 large fresh sage sprigs
4 large fresh thyme sprigs
2 large fresh rosemary sprigs

Preheat oven to 325°F. Sprinkle pork with salt and pepper. Heat 2 Tbs oil in heavy large ovenproof pot over medium-high heat. Add pork to pot and cook until browned on all sides, about 13 minutes total. Transfer pork to plate; discard fat in pot.
Heat remaining 2 Tbs oil in same pot over medium heat. Add shallots and grapes; sauté until shallots are golden, stirring occasionally, about 3 minutes. Add sugar; sauté 30 seconds. Add vinegar; bring mixture to boil and cook until slightly reduced, about 3 minutes. Add broth, all herb sprigs, and pork with juices from plate. Bring to boil. Cover pot and transfer to oven. Braise pork 1 hour. Using tongs, turn pork over and continue braising until meat is very tender, about 45 minutes longer. Using slotted spoon, transfer pork to platter; tent with foil.

Remove herb sprigs from pot and skim fat from surface of cooking liquid. Boil cooking liquid over high heat until thickened, about 7 minutes. Season sauce with salt and pepper. Pour over pork and serve.

** Leftovers make a really good version of 'pulled pork', Italian style on a ciabatta roll.

And lest you think we had no room to spare for dessert, au contraire!

Flourless Lemon-Almond Cake

1 1/3 cups blanched slivered almonds

8 Tbs sugar
4 large eggs, separated
5 tsp packed grated lemon peel
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch of salt

Preheat oven to 375°F. Butter and flour 9-inch-diameter cake pan with 1 1/2-inch-high sides. Line bottom of pan with waxed paper. Finely grind almonds with 2 Tbs sugar in processor. Combine yolks, 2 Tbs sugar, lemon peel, cinnamon and salt in medium bowl. Using electric mixer, beat until thick and smooth, about 2 minutes. Stir in almond mixture. Using clean beaters, beat egg whites in large bowl until soft peaks form. Gradually add 4 Tbs sugar, beating until stiff but not dry. Fold large spoonful of whites into almond mixture (start with a medium sized one and mix well since the almonds and yolks get pretty thick). Gently fold in remaining whites.

Transfer batter to pan. Bake until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 25 minutes. Cool in pan on rack. Turn out onto platter. Remove waxed paper.

Once cool, sprinkle with powdered sugar.

I served this with an Amaretto Whipped Cream (basically just whipping cream beaten with a bit of sugar and then Amaretto added to taste).

"Chip" had some Meyer Lemons fresh from California and made this gelato, which was fantastic (if I've used that too much here, sorry, but everything was just... fantastic :-)))  ).

Meyer Lemon Gelato

1 cup sugar
3/4 cup fresh Meyer Lemon juice (from 5 or 6 lemons)
1/2 cup cold water
1 cup whole milk
2 large egg whites
pinch of sea salt

Whisk together sugar, lemon juice and water in a medium bowl until sugar dissolves.  Add milk and whisk to combine (it will curdle; this is ok).

In another bowl, whisk egg whites and salt until whites hold a soft peak.  Fold egg whites into lemon juice mixture.

Churn mixture in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer's instructions.  Serve, or pack into a container and freeze.

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