Archive for August, 2010

Zucchini Balsamella – Zucchini Bechamel

Tuesday, August 24th, 2010

My garden runneth over with zucchini. I know. I’m not alone.

About this time of year the excitement in finding one or several zucchini beneath a canopy of green begins to wear thin. If you’re like some of my gardening friends you take the easy way out and give most of them to friends and neighbors.

Yes, it’s nice to share. But, don’t do it because you’re uninspired.  When I first started this blog I posted two excellent recipes for zucchini:

Calabacitas con elote – a Mexican zucchini and corn succotash
Kabak mucveri – Turkish zucchini fritters

And, because I’m a zucchini aficionado, I have a few more recipes coming your way, including this one for zucchini béchamel.

If you’re unfamiliar, not to worry, béchamel is a white sauce made out of a simple roux of butter, flour and milk. It is considered one of the mother sauces of French cuisine. So, when I came upon a recipe for Tortino di Zucchini, a crustless zucchini tart with béchamel sauce in the famed Italian cookbook, The Art of Eating Well by Pelligrino Artusi, I was curious.

Artusi explains that the Italian “balsamella,” is the “. . . equivalent to the béchamel sauce of the French, except theirs is more complicated.” His version omits the French step of cooking the sauce with onion and cloves.

According to many, The Art of Eating Well is the grandfather of Italian cookbooks, treasured by home cooks like the Joy of Cooking is to American audiences – except it dates back more than a century. . . In 1891, Artusi a retired Florentine silk merchant, self-published La scienza in cucina e l’arte di mangiare bene (The Science of Cooking and the Art of Eating Well). It is a collection of recipes from all the different regions of Italy – although it is heavily Tuscan-influenced. The cookbook has been in continuous print since 1894 and was finally translated into English in 1996.

The recipes sometimes have obscure ingredient measurements and scant instructions, which I think adds to its charm. Since most of these recipes were collected from home cooks, it makes sense – a pinch of this or a handful of that.

Since the first time I made the zucchini tart last summer, I’ve modified it significantly for the modern cook. And, I think it has more in common with a casserole than a tart. And, technically my version is a Mornay sauce (since it has cheese). It’s not a quick dish to make, but it is worth the effort. To make it easier, make up the béchamel a day or two in advance and reheat.

The final result is semi-crisp zucchini baked in a creamy cheese sauce that hints of nutmeg. It’s a perfect dish to take to a potluck or for those occassions you’re hankering for macaroni and cheese – but, this one is vegetable based.

Buon appetito!


Salsa Wars – Recipes for Roasted Tomato, Beet & Tomatillo Salsas

Sunday, August 8th, 2010

Salsa Wars Finalists

Over the years, I’ve become a bit of a salsa virtuoso. I point to my Mexican roots for precipitating the fondness for chile-based condiments.

Salsa, which means “sauce” in Spanish, originates back to the Aztecs, Mayans and Incas in Mexico and Central America, where sauces were made using tomatoes, chiles and a variety of other ingredients including seeds and berries, depending on availability and location. They encompassed sauces that were cooked and smoothed and those that were chunky and raw.

Growing up, salsa was on the table at every meal, right next to the salt and pepper. Whether it was my dad’s hot roasted green chiles mashed to perfection in the molcajete with garlic or my momma’s impromptu fresh pico de gallo with garden-fresh tomatoes, cilantro and jalapenos – salsa was the choice condiment for everything from tacos to eggs to pizza.

Today, salsa still reigns. Although my definition of it has expanded beyond Mexican and Latin American cuisine.

So, when I got the chance to be a judge at Salsa Wars, Denver Public Library’s salsa recipe contest, I jumped on it. The event was part of DPL’s Street Food series in July, which highlighted food from Peru, Brazil and Mexico.

As a judge, I had the pleasure of tasting the six finalist salsas, and the task of picking my favorites. I was torn . . .

Do I vote for the more traditional Salsa Jefe with roasted chiles and tomatoes or the roasted tomatillo-based Garlic and Lime Green Salsa – both of which I could eat leisurely with chips while I have a cold beer or margarita? Or, do I vote for the Salsa Puttanesca with capers and anchovies that would be great on fish, but I wouldn’t touch with chips? Then, there was that darn Caramelized Onion Salsa that tasted divine but called for an hour plus to caramelize onions?

There was also the lure of ingenuity with the roasted beet Red Square Salsa – tasty but more of a side dish than a salsa? And, a green tomato salsa that appealed to the gardener in me.

Ultimately, I channeled some Iron Chef judiciousness. Along with two other judges – Chef Shellie Kark of Kitchen cue and Jesse Ogas of Encantada Catering, we selected the winners:

1st Place:  Salsa Puttanesca-Salsa Italian Style – by Beth Hewlett

2nd Place:  Salsa Jefe – by Rocio Rowland

3rd Place:  Caramelized Onion Salsa – by Laura Kark

Other Finalists:

Red Square Salsa-Salsa Russian Style – by Beth Hewlett

Garlic and Lime Green Salsa – by Katherine Linder

Coleen’s Amazin Green Tomato Salsa – by Coleen Walsh

Below are recipes and pictures for half of the finalists. I cooked up the three (in bold) and made a few notes in italics. The remaining three recipes can be found on Chef Kark’s blog and her Facebook page.