Seasonal and Regional Favorites
With the abundance of fresh produce that summer brings, I always try and find new recipes using ingredient combinations that are unusual but sound exciting to my taste buds. Recently I discovered “A Recipe for Cooking” by Cal Peternell (Harper Collins, NY 2016), a cookbook that goes beyond the basics and features recipes for each season. You can learn how to put your own spin on Cal’s diverse recipes with these more complex variations and ways to simplify; it’s all about the taste—and you.
Cal is head chef at the famous Chez Panisse in Berkley, California. His first cookbook, “Twelve Recipes” was an instant classic, delivering the basic techniques and recipes for essential home cooking.
Pan-Roasted Eggplant Slices with Cumin, Honey and Sumac
1 large globe eggplant
Cooking oil, olive or vegetable
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons cumin seeds
Crushed red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon honey
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Good olive oil
1 teaspoon ground sumac
Using a vegetable peeler, peel strips lengthwise from the eggplant so that it is striped. Cut the eggplant into 1/2-inch rounds and sprinkle with 3/4 teaspoon salt.
Heat a skillet to medium and add 3 tablespoons cooking oil and then as many eggplant slices as will fit in a single layer.
Cook until they are browned, then turn them and brown the other sides, about 5 minutes per side. Set them aside, add more oil, and brown the remaining slices. Set aside.
Add 2 tablespoons cooking oil to the skillet and then the garlic, cumin seeds, and red pepper flakes. Stir until the garlic smells good and is cooked. Before it browns at all, add 3/4 cup water, the honey and the lemon juice. Stir to melt the honey, then return the eggplant to the pan, crowding it so that the liquid bubbles around the slices. Simmer for 4 minutes, turn them over and simmer for 4 more. Check to be sure the eggplant is cooked through and fairly soft.
Turn the eggplant out onto a platter, drizzle with oil, sprinkle with the sumac and let it cool to room temperature before serving.
Sungold Tomato and Melon Salad with Whipped Ricotta, Basil and Black Pepper
4 basil sprigs
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon lemon juice
Freshly ground black pepper
12 ounces ricotta
Good olive oil
1 favorite melon, halved and seeds scooped out
1 basket Sungold or best cherry tomatoes, halved
2 to 4 scallions, all the white and most of the green parts, thinly sliced
3 or 4 radishes, thinly sliced
Crush a basil sprig with your fingers and put it in a small bowl with the vinegar, lemon juice, black pepper and salt. Stir and then let sit for 20 minutes to get the basil flavoring into the dressing.
Meanwhile, put the ricotta in a mixing bowl or food processor bowl. Whisk like crazy, or sanely push the button, until the ricotta becomes shiny and smooth, like very thick sour cream. Whisk in 1/4 teaspoon salt and 2 tablespoons oil. Taste, adjust and spoon the ricotta onto a platter in a big dollop and spread it out a little with the back of the spoon.
With another spoon, scoop out crescents of melon into a mixing bowl—depending on its size, you may not need the entire melon. Add the tomatoes, scallions and radishes, tear basil leaves to toss in, and add 1/4 teaspoon salt. Remove the basil sprig from the dressing and add 3 tablespoons of oil. Stir well, add most of the dressing to the salad, and toss to coat.
Arrange the salad next to the ricotta, letting some of it overlap. Spoon the remaining dressing around and serve.
Creamed Sweet Corn Polenta
Cal devised this recipe of mixing polenta for body, buttery onions for savory sweetness, and lots of corn. Great with grilled meats or place a large dollop in the center of the plate surrounded by ripe summer vegetables like tomatoes or peppers, green beans or eggplant.
1 1/4 cups polenta
4 tablespoons butter
4 ears sweet corn, kernels cut from the cobs
1 yellow onion, diced
1/2 cup heavy cream or half-and-half, plus more as needed
In a medium saucepan with a heavy bottom, bring 5 cups water to a boil over high heat. Add a scant teaspoon salt, then whisk in the polenta in a steady stream. Reduce heat to low to avoid hand-searing plops and keep stirring till the polenta thickens and grains no longer settle but are suspended in the water, about 5 minutes. Cover loosely, turn heat to very low, and cook, stirring often, for 30 minutes. Some kinds of polenta can take much longer—taste to be sure polenta is done.
Meanwhile, heat a skillet to high, add 2 tablespoons of butter, swirl the pan as it foams, then add the corn kernels, 1/2 cup water and 1/2 teaspoon salt.
When it starts to bubble, lower heat to simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until the corn is very tender, about 15 minutes. You may have to add another 1/4 cup water if the pan dries out before the corn is fully cooked. Tip the corn out into a bowl and return the skillet to the burner over high heat. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons butter, swirl and add the onion and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Turn the heat to low and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is very tender and translucent, not browned, about 15 minutes. Add a splash of water if needed.
When the corn has cooled a bit, put half of it, and any liquid, in a blender with the cream and whiz until smooth. Combine the resulting puree, the remaining corn kernels, and the onion with the polenta and reheat over a low flame. Taste and adjust for salt, adding more cream, half-and-half, milk, or water to get the consistency right.
Editor’s Note: Find more of Sheilah’s culinary treats at www.cookingwithsheilah.com.