Transylvanian Bruschetta

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Summertime for Romanians means tomato salad. Period. This salad is largely based on the Greek salad, except it's minus the olives which Romanians prefer to eat seperately and with cheese. When I met my husband Andrew (who's half Italian), I fell in love with two things besdies him: basil and bruschetta. So it was only a matter of time before I combined everything into one of my Go To Appetizers for Summertime Entertaining.

This salad is extremely easy and inexpensive to prepare as well, and very party friendly as it actually tastes better if you do it in advance and let it stay in the fridge a few hours. It's great on its own as an appetizer, or minus the bread for a wonderful side salad to any grilled steak or even fish. I've made this appetizer a thousand times and every time it's a crowd pleaser. It's one of the first things that got me recognized back in law school as a good cook, and it became the second most requested item when people came over. For all those reasons, it will have a special place in my heart.

Tomato Salad with Feta Cheese aka "Transylvanian Bruschetta"
4 large, red very ripe tomatoes sliced in thin wedges or chopped
1/2 cup red onion, sliced thinly or chopped
2 small cucumbers peeled, seeded and sliced thinly or chopped
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
1 tbsp fresh parsely, finely chopped
2 tbsp fresh basil, chiffonade or finely chopped
extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp red wine vinegar (not balsamic) or the juice of 1 lemon
1/3 cup feta cheese, crumbled (recommended: Valbreso French feta)
Chiabatta bread

In a large mixing bowl, combine the tomatoes, red onion, and cucumbers. Sprinkle generously with salt and black pepper to taste (but keep in mind how salty your feta cheese is!). Add the parsley, basil, and vinegar. Drizzle enough olive oil to just coat the salad (this will depend on how juicey the tomatoes are) and mix well. Top with the feta cheese and gently combine, evenly distributing the feta within the salad.

Let stand at least 30 minutes so the flavors can combine together. You can do this salad 5 hours in advance.

Preheat grill to med-high (charcoal you want to let the flames to be completely gone; gas about 400-450 degrees).

Slice the chiabatta bread into 1/2 inch slices. Brush one side with olive oil and gently sprinkle a very small amount of kosher salt. Grill the bread on one side until good marks are made and the bread is toasted, but not browned or blackened. Remove promptly. (Yes you only want to grill one side because if you grill both sides, you'll get more of a "cracker" than a toasted slice of bread, and for this dish that has lots of juices, you want some bread to soak it all up!)

To assemble:
Top the warm chiabatta toasts with the cold salad, about 3/4 of the way up the toast, leaving an area for people to easily grab onto the bruschetta. Fan out the bruschetta on a serving platter either lining them up in a straight line, all facing the same way if using a rectangular platter or fan them out from the middle if using a circular one. Drizzle some extra virgin olive oil on top and serve.

Serving suggestion:
Very cold glass of pinot grigio.

Corn On The Cob With Parmesan and Basil Butter

I'm not usually a fan of corn personally, but in the summer when it's in season, it's sweet and delicious and a staple in our family. I'm a huge fan of grilling everything I can, so that gets extended to corn! But instead of doing the blackened direct grilling which in my opinion makes the corn tough, I love this steaming technique by using the husk and then wrapping it in aluminum foil, then placing it on the grill. Perfectly fine by itself, but I like to kick it up Italian style with some basil butter and freshly grated Parmesan cheese right at the end. I'm confident you'll love this recipe as much as my family does.

Corn On The Cob with Parmesan and Basil Butter

4 ears of corn, peeled down to end and silks removed (keep husks if possible)
1/2 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
1 tbsp basil, finely chopped
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
Parmesan cheese

Preheat charcoal grill to high (450 degrees if using gas).

In a bowl, combine the butter, basil, a couple of pinches of salt (to taste) and a couple of grinds of black pepper. Incorporate well and set aside. (this can be done in advance and chilled, then brought back to room temperature before use).

Smear the basil butter generously on the corn, then pull back up the corn husks. These will act as an insulator as well as give extra flavor. Wrap the corn (husk and all) in aluminum foil and pinch the sides to make sure no air will escape. If you don't have husks, then just wrap the buttered corn in the foil, but make extra care to make sure it's wrapped very well and no butter will escape during the cooking process.

Throw the corn on the grill and let cook about 20-30 minutes (20 for gas, probably closer to 30 if using charcoal because the coals will get cooler during the cooking process and you'll lose the heat).

Remove and carefully peel back foil -- careful, it's hot! Pull back the husks halfway and sprinkle with freshly grated Parmesan cheese. The heat from the corn will slowly melt the cheese right onto the corn itself.

Serve hot and enjoy!

Week Night Yum Yum: Grilled Portobella Mushroom with Goat Cheese and Pine Nuts and Mesclun Salad

Monday, June 8, 2009

I love portobella mushrooms. And I love them the best with a fresh, creamy goat cheese. Here's my low-carb, vegetarian-friendly recipe for an awesome portobella mushroom and salad that you don't have to feel guilty about eating. And the contrast of the cold but crusty goat cheese with the warm grilled mushroom is wonderful.

Grilled Portobella Mushroom with Goat Cheese and Pine Nuts

4 portobella mushroom "steaks" cleaned and de-stemmed
olive oil
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
fresh goat cheese, cold
1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted*
mesclun salad
balsamic-honey vinaigrette (recipe follows)
2 tbspn dried cranberries
Preheat your broiler to high (you can also grill your mushrooms on the gas or charcoal grill).
Brush the mushrooms with olive oil on both sides and sprinkle with salt and black pepper. Place on a baking sheet pan and broil on hgh heat until tender, about 4 minutes on each side. Be careful not to burn the mushrooms, so adjust distance and broil heat as necessary!
While the mushrooms are broiling, prepare the salad. Toss the mesclun greens and cranberries in a large bowl with the vinaigrette. Set aside.
Once the mushrooms are broiled, take out and top with one large dollap of goat cheese in the middle of the mushroom (gill side up), piling it rather high (forming like a mountain peak). Return to broiler and broil until the top of the cheese just begins to brown and get crusty. This is why you want to make a mountain peak with the cheese - otherwise, you'll burn the already-cooked mushroom! Remove immediately and set aside.
To plate:
On a large plate, place a mound of the tossed salad and top with a mushroom. Sprinkle the toasted pine nuts on top of the mushroom and along the sides of the salad. Add extra dollaps of goat cheese on the side of the salad if desired.
*To toast pine nuts, place nuts in a shallow pan and toast on low-med heat until browned and fragrant. They burn very easily, so make sure to turn them with a spatula often and remove them promptly from the pan as they will burn if left even if the heat is turned off underneath!
Balsamic-Honey Vinaigrette
1/2 cup good extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup good quality balsamic vinegar from Modena
2 tbsp honey
pinch of salt
pinch of black pepper
Place all ingredients in a bowl and whisk together until emulsified. Conversely, place all ingredients in a glass jar fitted with tight lid. Shake until blended together. Using a glass jar makes for easy storage of unused vinaigrette!