Category: Hors d’oeuvres

Cannellini Bean Salad

Cannellini Bean SaladThere are so many variations of this recipe, sometimes called Tuscan cannellini bean salad (the beans are also referred to as cannelloni beans as well), or white bean salad, and the ingredients are often varied and quite good. This is my version, which, of course, makes it the best. You may see a small bowl of this on the table at good Italian restaurants, and while the most common variation uses parsley instead of basil, I much prefer my version. You will too.

Ingredients:
1 19 oz can of cannellini (cannelloni) beans (or any kind of white bean such as butterbeans)
the juice of 1 lemon (~3 tablespooons)
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon pesto (or a handful of basil leaves coarsely chopped)
salt and pepper to taste
A baguette or rustic Italian bread, sliced into small cracker-like shapes

Directions:
1. Rinse the beans under water as, while the liquid they are packed in is quite nutritious, it won’t work well if included in this recipe. Set the beans aside. If you prefer, you can use dried beans that you soak, cook, and prepare yourself, but unless you are comfortable doing so and know how to ensure their tenderness, I recommend canned beans.

2. Add the lemon juice, olive oil, garlic and pesto (or basil leaves) to a bowl and stir together. The mix does not have to be a perfect emulsion, just a gentle stir will do.

3. Add the beans and stir it up a bit. I like to crush a few of the beans to thicken the dressing mixture allowing it to adhere better to the beans and giving it some texture. Then add salt and pepper to taste. Eat the whole bowl because you can’t stop after testing the flavor. Go back to step 1 and start over and try not to eat the whole bowl this time.

4. Place a spoonful of the bean salad onto each piece of bread and serve.

I always have pesto around so it is easy for me to use it in this dish, but basil leaves work perfectly well and so does parsley. I may experiment with the decidedly non-Italian cilantro to see how that goes. As I always say, experiment yourself, add other items that interest you, and you may chance upon something that blows you away. As you can see from the picture, I also added a lot more garlic than I indicate in this recipe, and woke up this morning still tasting the garlic, which I rather enjoy. Cooking is as much an art as it is a science, so tweak any of the ingredients or techniques to suit your own taste.

I also put the salad in the refrigerator for a bit which causes the olive oil to thicken somewhat. This helps the salad stay together a bit better and allows some tome for all the flavors to blend. I can easily make an entire dinner from a hunk of bread and a bowl of these beans, which is not just frugal, but also delicious and nutritious.

Roasted Garlic – The Garlic Lovers Treat

roasted garlicRoasted garlic is one of the easiest things to make and is not only great when included into other recipes, but it is magnificent on its own, squeezed out onto a crust of bread. Garlic is a lucky little bulb; like all nubs in the Allium family, it has a high concentration of both flavor and sugar. When roasted, the Maillard reaction changes those sugars into a garlic caramel, which coincidentally are two of my favorite flavors.

Roasted garlic bulbs make for a simple snack to have around, and while it may take some time to roast, it’s pretty much fire and forget as you pop them into the oven for a while, wait, and they are ready to eat. Roast, let them cool a bit, snip off the top and squeeze onto a toasted baguette and you have license to ignore the kids.

One tip, though. Most recipes you find suggest you cut off the top of the bulbs with the head intact and then roast. That’s fine if your goal is to peel the bulbs, but I find it much easier to pull the bulbs apart without cutting them, roast, and squeeze the garlic out. Peeling roasted garlic is a hassle I’ll leave to the celebrity chefs who dump that work on their assistants.

Ingredients:
1 head of garlic

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 400 F.

2. Pull the garlic bulbs apart from the head and place in a sheet of aluminum foil.

3. Fold up the foil to create a pouch, leaving some air space.

4. Place foil pouch in the oven for 45 minutes.

5. Let the garlic cool a bit before attacking it. Just snip the top off a bulb and squeeze out the sweet, garlicky goodness.

Classic Tomato Salsa

Salsa

Salsa

Per a request, this is my basic salsa recipe (enjoy this one, Tom). The great thing about salsa is that you can tweak it left and right to make the kind of salsa that suits your taste. Do you like cilantro, add an entire bunch (I do, it’s one of my favorite flavors). Hot or mild, play with the jalapeno to taste. Add a few chipotle peppers if you like it smokey. There are endless ways you can modify this recipe to make something incredible. I’m a huge fan of green salsa made with tomatillos, and I’ve even made salsa with spirits and odd spices. My point is that this is a great basic recipe and I challenge you to make it your own. Your taste buds will thank me.

Ingredients:
3 large tomatoes
3 cloves garlic
1/4 cup red onion
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
1 tablespoon green jalapeno chilies
2 to 3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1/2 teaspoon salt

Directions:
The easiest way to make this is to place all the ingredients in a food processor and pulse slowly until all ingredients are chopped but not pureed. I like a thick salsa, so I often add the garlic, lime juice and salt first, pulse (to get the garlic chopped well) then add the remaining ingredients and roughly process.

If you don’t have a food processor, or prefer to not use one, just chop up all the ingredients and mix together in a bowl. It is that easy. Sprinkle with a little dried cilantro, or even thyme or Mexican oregano for garnish.

Caramelized Salsa Verde

Caramelized Salsa Verde

Caramelized Salsa Verde

This is a surprisingly good take on salsa verde, the caramelization of the vegetables adds a wonderful depth of flavor to the classic salsa. I like to serve this warm with tortilla chips, but it works well in place of guacamole, or even with guacamole in tacos and fajitas. I often make it with the green chilies (without the pith and seeds) for a less spicy dish, but the chilies give the salsa a more nuanced character, so I like to include them.

Ingredients
2 pounds of tomatillos (husk removed)
6 green chilies (if you like it spicy)
1/2 of a medium onion, left intact, not cut up
2 garlic cloves
6 sprigs of cilantro leaves, including stem
1 teaspoon lime juice
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
salt to taste

Directions
1. Cut the tomatillos into quarters. If you are using the green chilies, you can remove the seeds and the pith (white ribs) if you like them less spicy, or keep them if you like more heat). Heat the oil in a pan and add the tomatillos, chilies, onion, and garlic. Cook over a medium-high heat, moving the items periodically to prevent them from burning. Cook the vegetables until they have turned a nice brown color, indicating that caramelization has begun. The tomatillos will cook down and lose a lot of moisture, this is normal.

2. When the vegetables have caramelized, place them in a blender or food processor, add the cilantro, lime juice and salt, and puree until smooth. Place in a bowl and serve.

This dish can be served on its own as a dip, or used on food. It can also be served warm or chilled in the refrigerator until ready to use, it will taste great either way.

Guacamole

Guacamole

Guacamole

This guacamole recipe has a great citrus taste with a hint of garlic. The key to a great texture is to use avocados that are semi-ripe instead of using ones that are very ripe. This way they retain some of their texture and create guacamole with some texture, instead of making wallpaper paste. If you can find them, the addition of Campari tomatoes add sweetness without much acidity, and the tomatoes retain their texture in the mixing, making this guacamole something special (of course any tomatoes will taste great, use what you can). In the image above you will see the peaks and valleys that indicate the rough texture of the guacamole, which is achieved by using avocados of the proper ripeness, which means no more searching in vain for the softest, ripest avocados. I can often make guacamole with avocados I buy the very same day.

Ingredients
5 semi-ripe Hass avocados

4 medium Campari tomatoes (or other medium sized tomato if you don’t have Campari)
2 garlic cloves
1/4 medium red onion
3 limes
1/2 bunch cilantro leaves
1 tsp salt

Directions
1. Cut the avocados in half lengthwise and remove the fruit (yes, avocado is a fruit) and place into a bowl.

2. Juice the limes and pour juice into the bowl with the avocado. Limes will juice more easily if you roll them against a flat surface first with the palm of your hand, pressing down firmly while you roll for a few seconds.

3. Dice the onion and add to the bowl.

4. Cut the tomatoes in half and remove the seeds with your fingers. Cut the tomatoes into a small dice and add to the bowl.

5. Using a garlic press, press the garlic cloves into the bowl.

6. Cut the cilantro leaves into small pieces and add to the bowl.

7. Add salt.

8. To achieve a well textured guacamole, the method for the best result is to take a regular steak knife and rip through the avocado pieces continuously, cutting the halves into smaller and smaller pieces in the bowl. This will let you mix all the ingredients together without mashing the avocado into a paste. Use a fork to finish the mixing by folding in the rest of the ingredients. Garnish with diced tomato and a sprig of cilantro leaves if desired.

Serve with tortilla chips to about 8-10 people.

Tip summary
Tip #1 – Use semi-ripe avocados, not fully ripe ones for great texture. Over-ripe avocados can have a musty flavor that some people don’t like anyway.
Tip #2 – If you can find them, Campari tomatoes will retain their shape instead of breaking down into mush. Their low acidity helps the dish retain a nice balance of taste and sweetness.
Tip #3 – Cut the avocado instead of mashing it. This will result in a nice, chunky guacamole instead of paste.