It’s one thing to eat well on special occasions or on the weekend when there’s time to cook big meals. It’s something else entirely to eat well on a daily basis, which is what we all strive for. But eating well doesn’t mean the food has to be fancy, elaborate, difficult or time-consuming to make. Some of the most memorable meals I’ve eaten were the simplest. In that respect, we’re fortunate in Louisiana because we have such an abundance of local ingredients that don’t require much preparation. Particularly so this time of year, when the markets are filled with local produce.
Many of us love old traditional standards that we grew up on or came to love later in life. Even the most avant-garde have a special place in their hearts for some of those dishes. But often they’re recipes that take some time to prepare. They’re not the kind of thing you can pull off after a long day at the office.
The key to daily meal preparation is learning to use what we have on hand to fashion tasty and satisfying meals. Often that involves adapting recipes. This is where professional chefs, in addition to their training and skills, have the upper hand because they have such a wide variety of ingredients in their kitchens. If we have to go shopping for items to prepare our meal we’ve added a significant amount of time to the whole endeavor.
None of this month’s recipes are particularly difficult to make, but more importantly, they can easily be altered and adapted to what you have in your pantry and refrigerator. The Savory Bread And Vegetable Pudding, for example, calls for asparagus and peas, but you can substitute other vegetables if you don’t have those. Or you could leave out the vegetables and make it with diced ham. The recipe specifies tomatoes to make an uncooked sauce, but if you don’t have tomatoes or if you want to save time, you can use something else, maybe some leftover pesto, a pasta sauce or a salsa. Don’t have Parmesan for the recipe? Omit it, or substitute another cheese. There are all kinds of variations that can come into play with just this one recipe.
The point is that recipes are not written in stone. They are, at most, guidelines or a road map. You can go off in all kinds of directions and wind up with a dish very different from what the author had in mind. After all, which is more fun – following a detailed map to a defined destination or taking a road trip that proceeds without plan?
There are probably more versions of gazpacho than there are cooks who make it. Here is one quick and easy recipe.
4 large tomatoes, peeled, seeded,
1 cucumber, peeled, seeded, and
1 red bell pepper, seeded and
¼ red onion, peeled and chopped
1 ½ cups tomato juice
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Coarse salt to taste
Hot sauce to taste
¼ cup olive oil
1 clove garlic, peeled
2 cups cubed bread
For soup: Combine all ingredients, except salt and hot sauce, in blender and puree. Season with salt and hot sauce. Refrigerate.
For garnish: Heat olive oil and garlic in skillet on medium heat. Add bread cubes and fry, turning as needed, until bread is browned on all sides. Season with salt.
Serve soup cold and add an ice cube to each bowl, if desired. Garnish with the fried croutons.
Makes 4 servings.
Broiled Eggplant With Mint Sauce
The eggplant can either be broiled or cooked on the grill.
1 large eggplant
¼ cup olive oil
Coarse salt and freshly-ground black pepper
Preheat broiler. Cut eggplant into quarter-inch slices. Brush both sides with olive oil and place on a heavy baking sheet. Broil until lightly browned, turn and broil the other side. Remove eggplant with a spatula, season with salt and pepper, and serve topped with mint sauce.
Makes 4 servings.
This is an adaptable sauce that can be served with various vegetable or meat dishes.
2 cups loosely packed
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
¼ cup pine nuts, pecans,
¼ cup sesame tahini
¼ cup water
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed
Coarse salt and freshly ground
Combine all ingredients except salt and pepper in blender and puree. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Makes about 1 cup.
Savory Bread And Vegetable Pudding With Tomato
Bread pudding is one of Louisiana’s favorite desserts, but there’s no reason why we can’t take out the sugar, add some vegetables and make it part of the main course.
1 cup milk
2 tablespoons melted butter
¼ teaspoon coarse salt
¹⁄8 teaspoon freshly-ground
2 cups French bread, without
crust, torn into small pieces
1 cup chopped asparagus
1 cup green peas
¼ cup freshly-grated Parmesan
3 medium tomatoes
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a muffin tin that has six large openings. Put two pots of salted water on to boil.
In a mixing bowl, beat eggs; add milk, butter, salt, and pepper and mix well. Add bread and stir to combine. Blanch peas and asparagus in one pot of boiling water for one minute. Pour into a colander and rinse under cold water. Drain well. Add vegetables to mixing bowl, along with grated Parmesan. Stir to mix well, then spoon contents into the muffin tin. Bake in preheated oven until puddings are set and pull away from the pan, about 15-20 minutes. Place muffin tin on a rack for a minute or two, then invert tin onto a baking sheet to remove puddings.
While puddings are baking, drop tomatoes into boiling water for a minute, then drain. Peel tomatoes, cut in half, and squeeze out seeds. Finely chop tomatoes and season with salt and pepper.
Serve puddings surrounded by a few spoons of the chopped tomato and garnish with chopped parsley.
Makes 6 servings.
Brussels Sprouts With Ham & Cream
Brussels sprouts lend themselves to various cooking methods. Slicing them cuts down on the cooking time and gives them a more appealing texture.
1 pound brussels sprouts
4 tablespoons butter
½ cup cubed ham
²⁄³ cup heavy cream
Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.
Trim stem ends of brussels sprouts and slice lengthwise into 2-4 sections, depending on their size.
Melt butter in large skillet on medium-high heat. Add brussels sprouts and ham and cook, stirring occasionally, until sprouts are tender and lightly browned but still crunchy, about 8-10 minutes. Add cream and cook, while stirring, until brussels sprouts and ham are coated with thickened cream. Season with salt and pepper.
Makes 4 servings.