Blog - fresh
I was quite surprised to be served cornbread with steamed lobster during my recent trip to Boston and Maine. I really didn’t know this was a common accompaniment to sweet lobster. My previous experience with cornbread always came with a good steaming bowl of chili…and I really enjoyed the combination. But the lobster connection was completely new to me.
I didn’t actually taste the cornbread-lobster combination because I don’t eat anything made with dairy products – and cornbread has lots of butter and milk in the ingredients. Bummer really, as I could imagine the taste of a well-made moist cornbread would match nicely with the sweet meat of steamed fresh lobster. This idea stayed in my head and I knew I would be making cornbread my way very soon.
I decided to experiment a bit and try to create a version of cornbread which would have a very moist consistency and rich corn flavor. I replaced the milk with rice milk, which worked very well and basically identical to normal milk versions. I used my standard conversion of 75% olive oil to butter in the recipe, which again worked perfectly. Substituting the eggs were a bit more challenging. I have used a smashed banana in combination with ground flax seeds successfully in the past, but I didn’t want any strange banana flavors in my cornbread. The idea of using a smashed avocado just came to me one morning and it seemed like a good replacement of the banana.
The outcome was very good, if not a bit different. A friend of mine commented on the cornbread and told me it was quite ‘Californian’ of me
Not a bad thing really!
This recipe makes about 12-16 squares…depending on the size of pan you use and how big you cut the squares
175 gr. Bramata Polenta (coarse cornmeal)
175 gr. all-purpose flour
50 gr. masa harina
20 gr. baking powder
10 gr. salt
1/2 avocado, mashed
1 Tbl. ground flax seeds
10 gr. vinegar
75 gr. olive oil
30 gr. honey
4,25 dl. rice milk
Preheat your oven to 180°C before you start gathering the ingredients. Generously coat your baking pan with oil – I use a 20-cm X 30-cm stainless steel pan. In a large bowl, mix together the polenta, flour, masa harina, baking powder and salt. In a separate bowl, add the mashed avocado, ground flax seeds and vinegar. Mix in the olive oil. Combine the rice milk and honey, then add these two ingredients to the avocado mixture. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and stir until just mixed together. Pour the batter into the prepared baking pan and bake until golden on top and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean – this will be about 35-40 minutes. Cool slightly, then slice into squares. I like storing any leftover cornbread on a plate with a paper towel draped over them. Storing them in an airtight container makes them go mushy.
I think this version of sweet corn and garlic soup is one of those perfect seasonal recipes which I look forward to each year. The combination of plenty of fresh garlic with fresh corn ooze a delightful sweetness in your mouth, which is balanced nicely with a slight acidity from the tomatoes and a bit of heat and smokiness from the Spanish paprika. I also added a touch of turmeric to preserve a nice yellow color. I elected to use masa harina (typically used to make tortillas) to create a sort of roux with the olive oil and onions and to highlight the corn flavor in the soup. I think this is really important in this soup, but you can feel free to use whatever flour you like to help bind the soup.
The garnish is really rather simple as I sautéed fresh summer chanterelle mushrooms (try to use the smaller ones and keep them whole) with some chopped onion and a few tablespoons of the fresh corn kernels.
One final tip… If you are just using water, which is what I often do in making this soup, then enhance the flavor slightly by boiling the corn cobs (after removing the kernels) for about 20 minutes.
This recipe will make about 2 liters
1 head garlic, cloves separated and peeled
4 Tbl. olive oil
1 red onion, sliced
2 tsp. pimenton de la vera (Spanish paprika)
½ tsp. turmeric
4 Tbl. masa harina
1 tomato, chopped
5 ears fresh corn
2 ½ liters water or vegetable broth
salt & pepper
Boil the garlic cloves to soften them and to make them milder in flavor. Place the cloves in a small pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil, and cook for 3 minutes. Drain and repeat 4 more times. After cooking the garlic cloves, place them in a small blender with 2 Tbl. olive oil and puree until very creamy. Reserve. Remove the corn from the ears and reserve. In a large pot, heat the remaining 2 Tbl. of olive oil over medium-high heat and cook the red onions, stirring often until wilted and soft. Add the reserved garlic puree, the paprika, and the turmeric. Mix well, then add the masa harina and stir until well incorporated. Add the chopped tomato and reserved corn, then half of the liquid. Stir well, making sure to scrape the bottom of the pot. When the liquid begins to boil, add the remaining liquid and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 20 minutes, stirring often. Purée the mixture in a blender (Careful!…only fill the blender half-way and hold the top down with a towel before turning on the blender), then strain into a clean pot, making sure to press out all of the liquid. Re-heat the soup, check the seasoning, adding salt and pepper and serve hot.
Since changing my diet about three years ago to a whole food, plant-based diet – including fish (I call this a pesca-vegan diet), I have really enjoyed creating dishes which replace some of my old favorites. To my utter surprise, these new creations are often far tastier than the older versions which were usually loaded with butter, cream and probably some kind of meat product. I have come up with ways to cook with less fat, or replace the meat-based fats with excellent quality olive oil.
This dish replaces one of my old standby favorites of green beans, onions and bacon. I wanted to create something similar when I came up with this idea, and the thought of using roasted sweet onions to increase the sweetness lost from the butter was obvious to me. Replacing the smoky flavor and crunchy texture of the bacon was less obvious. Almost by accident one The notion of using hot smoked salmon to provide the smoky flavor just came to me one day as I peered into the refrigerator. It was an excellent choice and worked perfectly in combination with the sweet onions and green beans…except the textural thing of course, which I continue to work on!
1 large Spanish onion
ground fennel flowers
300 gr. fresh green beans
250 gr. hot-smoked salmon
Slice the onion in half, remove the root attachment, then slice the onion into thick slices. Season with salt and coat well with olive oil. Add the ground fennel flowers (you can also use ground fennel seeds or ground cumin if you can’t find the fennel flowers) and mix well. Place on a large baking tray and put into the top part of a pre-heated 230°C oven with top heat. Grill the onions for 15 minutes…remove and toss about a bit, then put back into the oven for another 10 minutes. The onions should be a bit black around the edges and most of the water will have evaporated.
Prepare the green beans by snipping off the ends and washing well. Bring a pot of water to a boil, add a good portion of sea salt to the water after it reaches a boil, then plunge the beans into the water. Boil for about 3-5 minutes – the beans should remain slightly crunchy. Remove the beans and place on a plate to cool.
To put everything together, heat 1 dl. of water in a large pan over medium-high heat. Add the beans and onions and toss well. Once the water has evaporated, season with a bit of sea salt and about 1-2 Tbl. of olive oil. Break apart the smoked salmon into large chunks and add to the pan. Heat just long enough to take the chill out of the salmon. Serve right away.
My teen years were spent in the farm country of southeastern Washington state in Walla Walla – home to the famous sweet onion of the same name. And like most kids in the area, I worked a summer packing these large onions into 50 pound sacks to be loaded onto large trucks to be shipped throughout the state and country. These onions were clearly a source of huge pride to the locals. Today, of course, that pride remains but it has been somewhat replaced by the increasing number of vineyards and wine producers in the area.
Back to the onions…
The sweetness in these onions are intense because of their relative low levels of sulfur and higher levels of sugar. I remember enjoying them in salads or donning a grilled hamburger. Some people even ate them raw like an apple, but I thought this was just showing off.
Fast forwarding to Zürich…
Several years ago during one of my regular trips to the market, I finally got enough nerve to inquire about the really large onions I always spotted from July through September. They never had a skin to them…and they were indeed very large. Just as I asked, a lovely elderly lady next to me jumped in (very rare in Switzerland) and told me all about these monster onions. She explained to me how sweet they were and what the Swiss normally do with them…which is boil them, slice them in half, scoop out the middle and fill them with ground meat. They are then topped with cheese and finished in the oven. I was intrigued, but since I don’t eat meat or cheese, the actual recipe didn’t appeal to me. I did buy one though and decided to slice it and roast it in the oven.
There is often a big discussion among Italians regarding the ingredients of this traditional dish. In particular, much focus is on the cucumber. Traditional panzanella found in Florence never includes cucumbers, but in Sienna (just a short distance away), cucumbers are always part of the dish. Most Italians, however, don’t stress too much about the ingredients and add other ingredients which they feel adds goodness to the dish. There is in fact a version of panzanella in Garfagnana called panzanella del prete, which includes many additional ingredients like radicchio, fennel, carrots, diced ham, anchovies in oil, crumbled tuna, boiled eggs, capers and even diced cheese. Strips of red or yellow peppers are also often included to add a certain decorative color. Today, a fashionable panzanella will be made with boiled pearl barley instead of crumbled bread.
I believe this is a dish which defines the Italian spirit in cooking, so I prefer keeping my panzanella very light and only use a few ingredients…but all of the ingredients must be the best quality you can find! Here’s how I have learned to make the traditional version common south of Florence.
Yield: about 6 servings
400 gr. stale bread
4 ripe tomatoes
2 red onions
2 cucumbers (optional)
red wine vinegar
Cut the bread into thick slices and place them in cold water for about 10 minutes. Working with a bit of bread at a time, squeeze them between your hands, making a motion as you would be rubbing your hands. Allow the crumbs to fall into a large bowl (the bread should be as dry as possible after this rubbing and squeezing exercise).
Slice the tomatoes and remove the seeds (I usually skip this part because I don’t mind the seeds). Thinly slice the onions and add them to the tomatoes and bread. Slice the cucumbers and remove the seeds (peel them also if you are using large cucumbers), then add them to the mix. Add some basil leaves, then season with salt and gently toss with enough olive oil to just coat everything – keep it light and don’t use too much oil in the salad. Keep in a cool place or refrigerate until ready to serve. Season with a bit of vinegar and some more oil just before serving.
Adapted from Il Grande Libro Della Vera Cucina Toscana