Tomato, Ricotta and Lemon Tarts

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I walked home from work tonight. It is about 5 km from my office to my apartment so I frequently walk home to get exercise. I love the feeling of solitude that walking gives me. I have time to sort out my thoughts, to make plans and to work through creative ideas. I also have time to get in touch with nature as I walk through parks.

Tonight, as I walked I could not help but feel the splendor of the summer’s evening. There was a slight breeze blowing and the air smelled so sweet. Even though there was traffic and cyclists and runners passing by, I still felt a calmness in the air. I thought about how long we waited for this summer to come. I wanted to grab hold of that feeling and that moment and not let it go. But we cannot capture those precious moments in time. We can only try to record them in our memories and hope they will come again.

That is one of the reasons that I love photography. Every shot records a moment, a feeling, a person, a place, an event or even a sensation or taste. When I look back at photos of trips or events I remember what that day felt like. I recall what was happening and who was there and what we did. It is like the photo triggers the place in my memory where I stored that moment.

I hope that when we share our photographs with others, they are able to feel some of those moments with us.

I also hope that when we share recipes that we love, others will try them and enjoy the flavours that we enjoyed. I am a huge fan of tomatoes and ricotta cheese so when I saw this recipe in the Donna Hay Magazine, I had to make it. The recipe is quite simple and made a delicious lunch for my daughter and I. The ricotta and lemon filling offer a great balance to the fresh cherry tomatoes. The tarts are great served with a side salad or on their own.

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Tomato, Ricotta and Lemon Tarts

Makes 6 servings

Ingredients:

500 g ricotta cheese
1 tbsp. finely grated lemon rind
1/4 cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
2 tbsp. finely chopped chives
1 cup grated parmesan cheese
2 eggs, lightly beaten
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
8 sheets filo (phyllo) pastry
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved

Directions:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Place the ricotta, lemon, parsley, chive, 1/4 cup parmesan, egg, salt and pepper in a bowl and mix to combine.

Place 1 sheet of pastry on a board, brush with olive oil and top with a second sheet pf pastry. Repeat with remaining pastry sheets.

Lightly grease an 8 x 11 inch baking dish.

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Cut the stack of filo pastry in half lengthways and into thirds crossways to make 6 squares. Divide the ricotta mixture by spooning 1/6 into each of the pastry squares. Sprinkle with the remaining parmesan cheese.

Place the tarts in the baking dish, lifting the edges to fit snugly. Brush the pastry with olive oil and bake for 20 minutes or until golden and cooked through.

Serve each tart with tomatoes and a sprig of parsley.

Recipe from Donna Hay Magazine- Issue 73 Feb/Mar 2014

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Wonderful Vegetarian Corn Soup with Avocado and Lime

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Why are there so many competitive cooking shows on TV?

There is Master Chef, Recipes to Riches, Cutthroat Kitchen, My Kitchen Rules, just to name a few. What happened to educational programs like Cooking with Julia or Jacques Pepin where the chef prepared dishes and explained classic techniques as they went along.

What are we learning from watching people compete against one another to win cash or titles? Are the people who are disqualified lesser chefs, or did they just not do well under pressure? Are we learning how to cook or how to compete?

Call me old-fashioned, but I prefer a program filled with fresh ideas, demonstrations and tips on how to make the dish work. Show me a chef with a passion for food and some amazing ingredients. Then show me how they can turn those ingredients into mouth-watering dishes and I will give you my attention and I will come back for more.

I find my cooking inspiration from great chefs, home cooks and wonderful cookbooks. I am often found sitting curled up in an arm-chair, sipping a cup of tea, and pouring over a good cookbook or a beautiful magazine. I imagine the taste of each recipe and how I might tweak it to make it my own. I look for ones that include seasonal ingredients so the flavours will be fresh and delightful. I mark my favourite pages with sticky notes so when it is time to go shopping I can refer back to those recipes, easily, to make my list.

When I saw this recipe in Gourmet Traveller I was immediately inspired. I have changed the ingredients to suit my taste and to make it work as an easy vegetarian soup that is perfect for this time of year. I love the combination of the tomato and corn based soup with the freshness of the lime and avocado.

Corn Soup With Avocado and Lime

Makes 4 servings

Ingredients:

6 vine-ripened tomatoes, halved
14 oz. can Plum tomatoes, drained
1 Spanish onion, cut into wedges
1/4 cup olive oil
3 garlic gloves, finely chopped
4 cups vegetable stock
3 cups frozen corn
2 avocados, coarsely chopped
1 fresh lime, juiced
1 fresh lime, cut in wedges for serving
1/2 cup fresh coriander, coarsely chopped
Hot sauce, optional-add to taste

Directions:

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Place tomato halves, skin side up on a cookie sheet, add onion and drizzle with half of the olive oil. Place tray in the oven and cook 5 minutes or until the skin starts to blister. Remove the pan from the oven and remove skin from tomatoes.

Heat remaining oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add garlic and saute until tender. Add stock, roasted vegetables, canned tomatoes and bring to a simmer on medium-high heat. Season and simmer 10 minutes.

Pulse in the blender in batches until it is a coarse puree and return it to the pot. Add corn and bring back to a simmer for 5 minutes on medium heat, until the corn is tender.

Coarsely crush the peeled avocado in a bowl, add lime juice and coriander.

Serve soup in individual bowls topping each with the avocado mixture and serving with extra lime on the side.

Hot sauce can be added to taste. I left it out since I prefer a milder soup.

Recipe inspired by Gourmet Traveller Annual Cookbook-2013 Collectors Edition

Remembering Nice with Nicoise Salad with Haricots Vert and Yukon Gold Potatoes

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Salad Nicoise is one of my all-time favourite salads. Named after the wonderful french city of Nice, this salad embodies the best of their regional cuisine.

Whenever I am in Nice I love to go exploring. When walking along the Promenade des Anglais I find it a little odd to see such breathtaking sea views only a few steps away from this cosmopolitan city. I think that is one the things that make Nice so special.

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Walking around the city once cannot help but notice the juxtaposition of the traditional architecture with the ultra-modern transportation.

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You can walk to the historic old town where you can experience Nice’s world-renowned flower market or the farmer’s market. There are also some lovely antique shops and bakeries hidden around the old town.

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I love to spend my time wandering the streets to find interesting sights, sample local delicacies and enjoy outdoor cafes. Every time I have this salad I remember my visits to Nice. I remember dinners in lovely open-air restaurants after dark and I remember sipping a glass of wine in a bar on the beach while watching the waves crash on the rocks.

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While recalling trips from years past, I often recall the wonderful meals that we ate along the way.

I decided to pair this salad with an Ontario wine from Hidden Bench winery in the Niagara Escarpment. This wonderful Bistro Rose 2012 has a nose of strawberries, ripe cherries and white flowers. It was a perfect complement to a Mediterranean salad due to its rich, full bodied flavour.

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Nicoise Salad with Haricots Vert and Yukon Gold Potatoes

Makes 6 servings

Ingredients:

2 lbs. baby Yukon Gold potatoes, halved
Kosher salt
1 lb. haricots vert, trimmed
3 tbsp. red-wine vinegar
1 tbsp. whole-grain Dijon mustard
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium shallot, finely diced
1 tbsp. chopped fresh thyme
Freshly ground black pepper
1 can white tuna, drained well and flaked
2 tsp. capers, rinsed and drained
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
3/4 cup pitted Niçoise or Kalamata olives, coarsely chopped

Directions:

Set the potatoes in a large (6-quart) pot, cover them with cold water by a couple of inches, stir in 2 tbsp. salt, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a gentle simmer, cover, and cook until the potatoes are tender when pierced with a fork, about 10 to 12 minutes. Stir in the haricots vert and cook until they turn bright green and tender, about 3 to 4 minutes. Drain well and cool under running water.

In a blender or food processor, blend the vinegar with the mustard. With the machine still running, add the oil in a slow, steady stream so the mixture comes together into a thick emulsion. Add the shallot, 2 tsp. thyme, 1 tsp. salt, and 1 tsp. pepper, and purée until incorporated. Taste and season the dressing with more salt and pepper if needed.

Add 1 or 2 tbsp. water if needed to thin the dressing to a pourable consistency.

To plate individually, lightly toss the potatoes, beans, tomatoes, and olives with half the vinaigrette and plate; top with the tuna, capers, and the remaining thyme; and serve the remaining dressing on the side.

Wine Pairing: I paired this salad with a bottle of Hidden Bench Bistro Rose 2012

http://www.hiddenbench.com

Recipe adapted from Fine Cooking Fresh and Quick Magazine

Summer Caprese Salad

My life has been in transition for the past few months. I have been working on a creating a permanent lifestyle change that involves finding balance, eating healthy and getting more exercise. As you have read in my previous posts, I have taken up cycling and walking. Now I am going to start running.

I started this process by committing myself to a 32km walk this September to raise money for Cancer research. Then I bought a bicycle and started riding it all over Toronto. This week I decided to make things more interesting by making a commitment to run in my first 5km run with my daughter.

It has been a long time since I ran on a regular basis and I have never run a 5km race. I am going to step up my training routine to include daily runs and power walks to get ready.

Each of these physical activities has brought its own unique set of challenges. For each one I found it helpful to set mini goals that push me farther toward my ultimate goal. This 5km run may be the most challenging of them all.

The best part of my healthier lifestyle is that I enjoy living more each day. I am learning to live in the moment and to see the world through a positive lens. I have lost weight, dropped a few dress sizes and my blood pressure is under control. This has started out to be one of the best summers ever. Life is good!

Summer is also about the great flavours of fresh local produce. Farmers’ markets are brimming with fresh fruits and vegetables. One of my favourite flavours of summer is the taste of ripe, fresh tomatoes from the garden or farmer’s field. That is why Summer Caprese Salad is such a regular dish at my dinner table. The combination of sweet tomatoes, soft mozzarella cheese and the bite of fresh basil are a combination made in heaven.

Summer Caprese Salad

Makes 4 to 6 servings

Ingredients

8 oz. (250 g) fresh mozzarella, sliced ½ inch (1 cm) thick
1 lb. (500 g) field tomatoes, sliced ½ inch (1 cm) thick
Leaves from 2 large bunches basil

Vinaigrette

1 cup (250 ml) balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp. (15 ml) Dijon mustard
1 clove garlic, minced
½ tsp. (2 ml) salt
¼ tsp. (1 ml) freshly ground pepper
1/3 cup (75 ml) extra virgin olive oil

Directions

To make vinaigrette, in a small saucepan, bring balsamic vinegar to a boil over medium heat. Reduce heat and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes or until reduced to ½ cup (125 ml). Let cool. It will thicken as it cools.

In a bowl, whisk together reduced vinegar, mustard, garlic, salt and pepper. Slowly drizzle in oil, whisking until emulsified.

Arrange cheese, tomatoes and basil leaves on a platter. Up to 1 hour before serving, drizzle with vinaigrette.

Recipe from In My Mother’s Kitchen by Trish Magwood

 

Panzanella with Roasted Peppers, Tomatoes and Basil

This has been a weekend of sporting events. Last night the Stanley Cup Playoffs game between the New Jersey Devils and the L. A. Kings ended with a 3 game to 2 lead for L.A. In spite Los Angeles having a 3-0 lead in the series, the Devils worked hard to regain their competitive place in this challenging series.

The NBA eastern conference semi-finals ended last night as the Miami Heat won over the Boston Celtics in game 7 of the series. I was sad to see the Celtics lose because they are a team steeped in history and have a line up that belongs in the basketball hall of fame. There was a lot of media hype about the age of the players but in my mind they played each game with the wisdom and perseverance of a seasoned team.

Today the Euro 2012 soccer matches are broadcasting throughout the day. Earlier today, long time rivals Italy and Spain ended their match in a 1-1 tie. My daughter, son-in-law and grandson came over to watch the Ireland vs Croatia match. My son-in-law is from Dublin and played soccer there as a young boy. My 17 month old grandson is already starting to kick around a soccer ball.

I think watching sports together as a family builds bonds and lasting memories. We each take our own perspective and vote for our favourite teams or players. We make sportsmen’s bets on who will win and get very excited as we watch each play unfold.

It makes me feel contented to have the kids over for an afternoon game and a meal. I love to make simple, comforting food for everyone to enjoy. This Italian Panzanella is a hearty peasant style salad made from tomatoes, roasted red peppers and stale bread. The flavours of the oil, the fresh basil and vegetables are infused into the bread creating a burst of flavour in every bite.

Panzanella with Roasted Peppers, Tomatoes and Basil

Ingredients

6 oz. stale country bread, cut into 1/4 inch cubes (about 4 cups of cubes)
1 red roasted bell pepper, roughly diced
1 1/2 cups grape tomatoes, halved
2 tbsp. red wine vinegar
1/4 cup plus 1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
coarse salt
freshly ground black pepper
large handful fresh basil leaves

Directions

Combine bread, peppers, and tomatoes together in a bowl. Whisk the vinegar, olive oil, salt, pepper, and anchovies together in a small bowl and drizzle over salad. Tear the basil, toss everything together with your hands, and let stand 15 minutes before serving.

Distribute the panzanella on plates, drizzling each with a little extra virgin olive oil and serve.

Recipe modified from My Father’s Daughter by Gwyneth Paltrow

Tomato, Goat Cheese and Ricotta Tart

My favourite vegetables are tomatoes. I know technically tomatoes are a fruit but in the culinary world they are referred to as vegetables. When the fresh heirloom tomatoes start to show up in the markets during the summer I am in heaven. I love tasting all of the colourful varieties in various shapes and sizes. When you bite into a freshly picked tomato you taste a burst of flavour that makes you smile from the inside out.

Just add a little salt and pepper, a touch of good olive oil and a drizzle of balsamic glaze and you have heaven on a plate.

This Tomato, Goat Cheese and Ricotta Tart has a great mix of flavours from the herbed ricotta and goat cheese layered with fresh tomatoes and baked on a light fluffy, puffed pastry crust. It would make a wonderful appetizer or a great lunch tart served with a green salad.

Tomato, Goat Cheese and Ricotta Tart

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Ingredients

½ lb. (225 G) ready rolled puff pastry, thawed (1/2 package)
3 tbsp. roasted pine nuts
2 tbsp. flat-leaf parsley, chopped
1 tbsp. large leaf basil, chopped
5 oz. (150 g) ricotta cheese, drained
4 oz. (100 g) crumbly goat cheese
4-6 assorted seasonal or heirloom tomatoes, sliced (look for a variety of colours and sizes)
1 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Directions

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

Cut the pastry into 2 pieces and lay on a large baking sheet lined with parchment paper.

Turn the edges over by 1/3 inch to make a rough border. Scatter the crust with pine nuts and chill in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.

Put the ricotta in a small bowl, mix in the herbs and season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Spoon the mixture onto the pastries. Crumble the goat cheese over the ricotta mixture. Lay the tomatoes over the cheese mixture arranging the colours around for variety. Sprinkle with olive oil and bake for 20 minutes until the pastry is puffed and the cheese golden. Serve immediately.

Recipe adapted from Food and Travel Magazine

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Roasted Sugar Snap Peas and Tomatoes with Tapenade

I am sitting here watching the Super Bowl game and thinking about getting back to healthy eating. Maybe it is because we eat more junk food on this weekend than on any other during the year. We head out to Super Bowl parties filled with chili, ribs, chicken wings, nachos and endless other delights. We spend hours eating and drinking and cheering on our favourite team with friends and family. Don’t get me wrong; I like NFL football and I always watch the Super Bowl.

I think I am just too full from my weekend outing.

I had a great weekend. I visited my sister in the Niagara escarpment and we cooked for hours and enjoyed tasting some excellent Niagara wines. I love visiting her because she lives in the country so I feel like I am visiting a country inn for the night.

My sister is an accomplished cook with an amazing kitchen. I love to spend time helping her out in the kitchen. I am her sous chef. It is a great bonding time for us.

This dish of Roasted Sugar Snap Peas and Tomatoes with Tapenade is a light option that is great for this time of year, since the ingredients are readily available. It is nice served on its own or as a side to a pork or beef main course. The black olive tapanade adds a rich, salty flavour that compliments the roasted vegetables and pine nuts.

Roasted Sugar Snap Peas and Tomatoes with Tapenade


Makes 4 servings

Ingredients

Kosher Salt
¾ lb. fresh sugar snap peas, ends trimmed
2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
freshly ground black pepper
1 ½ c. assorted-colour cherry tomatoes
1 tsp. fresh thyme
¼ c. tapenade
2 tbsp. pine nuts, lightly toasted

Directions

Bring a pot of water to a boil. Cook the sugar snap peas in the water until slightly cooked, 3-4 minutes. Drain the peas and drop into ice water to cool.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.

Drain the peas and put into a bowl, toss with 1 tbsp. olive oil, season with salt and pepper and spread out onto a cookie sheet.
Put tomatoes into a medium-sized bowl, toss with the remaining 1 tbsp. olive oil, season with fresh thyme, salt and pepper and add to the cookie sheet.
Roast the peas and tomatoes until the tomatoes start to spit, 7-10 minutes. Slide vegetables onto a serving platter, sprinkle with pine nuts and dot with tapenade.

Serve, with additional tapenade on the side.

Recipe modified from the original found in The Best of Fine Cooking Grilling magazine.