Herby Cucumber Salad

  We enjoyed the company and friendship of some  close friends at a picnic/cookout over the weekend.  After the parade we all gathered in the backyard of one family, and everyone contributed a side dish or dessert.  And  of course, the men were in charge of the grill and its designated foods.

Salads of all kinds are usually welcome, and easy to transport,  so this salad was my contribution. It is cool,  creamy and tangy, and comes together in a flash.  Make the dressing in advance, and carry to the picnic in a separate container.  Toss it with the cucumbers and onions just before serving, otherwise the cucumbers will release too much water.  This salad got rave reviews, so I thought I would share it with you.

  • Ingredients
  • 1/4 cup low-fat greek yogurt
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill, or 1 teaspoon dried dill
  • 1 tablespoon coarsely chopped parsley
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons coarsely chopped fresh mint
  • 2 teaspoons  Dijon mustard
  • 1/4 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 5 1/2 cups thinly sliced cucumber (about 2 large)
  • 2 1/2 cups thinly sliced red onion
  1. Combine all ingredients except  cucumber and onion, in a food processor or a blender, and process until well blended.
  2. Place sliced cucumbers and onions in a large bowl, drizzle with the dressing mixture , and toss to coat.
Serves 6-8.
Source:  Cooking Light Magazine

Marinara Sauce

One of the things I like to have on hand at all times is Marinara Sauce.  This is the basic tomato sauce that I use the most.  This got me to thinking that from time to time I would write about foods that I consider “kitchen basics”, and this is one of them.  It is extremely easy to make,  and so worthwhile because it is so versatile.  During the time the sauce is simmering you can be doing something else.  This is a nice thick sauce that is great with any pasta shape. If you think it needs to be thinned down a little for a particular recipe you can add a little white wine to it.  It can also handle the addition of meatballs or sausage, and you can certainly add additional seasonings to your taste.

This recipe makes about 2 quarts (8cups);  3-4 cups will serve 4 over pasta.

MARINARA SAUCE

  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil  (note;  use a good quality EVOO, one with a fruity flavor, because this enhances the sauce.)
  • 2 small onions, chopped
  • 2 garlic gloves, finely chopped
  • 2 celery stalks, finely chopped
  • 2 carrots, peeled and grated
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt, plus more to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
  • 2 ( 32-ounce) cans crushed tomatoes (note: here too, be sure to use the best canned ones you can find, preferably the San Marzano variety.)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano (my preference)
In a large sauce pan, heat the oil over medium heat.  Add the onions and garlic and sauté  until the onions are translucent, about 10 minutes.  Add the celery, carrots, and 1/2 teaspoon each of salt and pepper.  Saute until the vegetables are soft, about 10 minutes.
 Add the tomatoes, bay leaves and any other seasonings you prefer, and simmer uncovered over low heat until the sauce thickens,about an hour.  Remove bay leaves and discard.  Season the sauce with more salt and pepper to taste.
I like to double this recipe when I make it, so I can freeze the extra in 2-3 cup portions in freezer bags, or containers;  then it’s ready when I need some.
Source:  Giada De Laurentis, “Everyday Italian”,  with slight modifications.

Cauliflower au Gratin

When I first tasted this dish I was struck by the combination of flavors and textures that work so well together.  Since cauliflower,  as a vegetable on its own can be rather bland, in my opinion, it needs to be enhanced by other flavors or seasonings to give it some punch.  By preparing it as an au gratin,  cheese in the sauce provides the contrasting flavor, and the smooth creaminess of the sauce adds a strong contrast in texture.  So too does the crunchy breadcrumb topping.

Preparing this dish is not difficult, but does require several steps.  Plan on about an hour to make it.

To begin wash a head of cauliflower  removing the leaves and tough inner core.  Leave the head whole, and place in a sauce pan large enough to hold it.  Add about an inch of water to the pan, season with a little salt, and bring to a boil.  Cook until just barely tender, so cauliflower will hold its shape.  Drain water and place cauliflower in a baking casserole;  one which has room for the added sauce.

While cauliflower is cooking, begin to make your sauce.  This is a béchamel sauce, or in Italian called balsamella. This is basically a white sauce to which I’ve added cheese.   Mine is a simplified version which is easy to prepare, and if you wish you can make a double recipe and have some left for another use, such as Eggs Benedict,  or asparagus with Hollandaise sauce, or use in a pasta casserole.

BECHAMEL SAUCE

  • 2 2/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup all purpose flour
  • 2 cups warm milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • pinch white pepper
  • pinch ground nutmeg
  • 1 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
  1. In a medium saucepan melt the butter over medium heat.  Add the flour and whisk until smooth, about 2 minutes.
  2. Gradually add the warm milk, whisking constantly to prevent lumps from forming.  Continue to cook over low-medium heat, whisking constantly, until sauce is thick, smooth, and creamy, about 10 minutes.  Do not allow sauce to boil.
  3. Remove from heat and stir in salt, pepper and nutmeg.   Add additional salt, pepper and nutmeg to taste.
  4. Gradually stir in grated cheese,  allowing each addition to melt in the sauce before adding more.  (Note:  This sauce can be made up to 3 days ahead.  Cool, then cover and refrigerate.)
  5. Pour the sauce over the cauliflower in the baking dish.
CRUMB TOPPING
  • 1/2 cup seasoned fine bread crumbs or Panko crumbs
  • 2 tablespoons melted unsalted butter
  1. Combine crumbs with melted butter.  Sprinkle evenly over cauliflower.
Bake in a 350 degree oven for 30-40 minutes until cauliflower is tender and crumbs are nicely browned.