A number of years ago I was on a trip to Spain, and I was treated to an amazing tapas feast. We ate so many delicious foods that night, but my favourite by far was the Padrón peppers – blackened, slathered with olive oil, and topped with crunchy salt. They were mildly hot; some were a little warmer than others, but the heat wasn’t uncomfortable.
I didn’t think I would enjoy these at all, since I’m not fond of green bell peppers, but these are completely different from bell peppers. Yay for trying new things!
When I got home from the trip to Spain I thought I would make these peppers all the time when I had guests, however, limited access to Padrón peppers in Vancouver crushed my dream. I was able to find them once at a Farmer’s Market. I paid a small fortune for them, and they were so hot that no one would eat them! I did eat them because I can be a bit stubborn, but they were not nearly as good as the ones in Spain.
Enter: the Shishito pepper. I found them in Vancouver at a Persian store, and at my local Korean store they are labelled as Twist peppers. They are incredibly similar to Padrón peppers – yay!
What you need:
- Shishito or Padrón peppers
- olive oil
- flaky sea salt
What you do:
- Wash and dry the peppers.
- Bring a large frying pan (I like cast-iron for this) to high heat. Add a glug of olive oil, then add the peppers. Allow to fry for about one minute before turning; they should be blistered and darkened on the first side.
- Fry on the other side for another minute or so.
- Drizzle a bit more olive oil, then use your fingers to sprinkle on some sea salt.
- Enjoy them while they’re hot! You can always soak up the excess olive oil with some bread.
These beauties made a tasty little appetizer. Super easy too.
The type of cheese and herbs you use is up to you and your taste preferences, or what you’ve got on hand. I used a combination of Tofutti “Better than Cream Cheese” along with some goat cheese, and mixed in some basil and parsley.
These can be made vegan by using cream cheese and parmesan non-dairy substitutes.
What you need:
- mini bell peppers
- cheese of your choice: goat cheese, cream cheese, Tofutti “Better than Cream Cheese,” or a combination of cheeses
- chopped fresh herbs (your choice: basil, oregano, or dill, or…) Green onions are another option
- salt and freshly cracked pepper
- parmesan cheese
What you do:
- Preheat the oven to 400F.
- Slice the peppers in half lengthwise and remove the seeds. Save one pepper to chop up for a garnish. Roast the peppers in the oven for about 5 minutes.
- Combine the herbs, soft cheese, salt and pepper, then spread it into the cavity of the peppers. Top them with a bit of parmesan cheese, then pop them in the oven just long enough to heat them up, about 10-15 minutes.
- Garnish with chopped pepper and a few herbs. Enjoy!
My friend Sarah shared this with me the other day, along with a nice glass of red wine. It’s really simple, just some beautiful cheese with a bit of honey and some hand-ground coffee beans . . . but it is a gorgeous combination of flavours.
Manchego is a Spanish cheese made with sheep’s milk. It is not a pungent cheese, but it’s got a great flavour. The sweetness of the honey and the bitterness of the coffee beans somehow pair perfectly with this cheese.
Sarah found the recipe in a Jamie Oliver cookbook.
What you need:
- a wedge of Manchego cheese
- honey – whatever you have in your house, or something fancy
- coffee beans (don’t use pre-ground beans)
- baguette (optional)
What you do:
- Remove the cheese from the fridge at least an hour before serving
- Use a mortar and pestle or a coffee grinder to grind the coffee beans finely, then make a little pile of them on a decorative cutting board or plate.
- Pour some honey into a small bowl, and place it on the board along with the cheese and coffee grounds.
- To serve, cut a slice of cheese, then dip it in the honey, and use your fingers to sprinkle on a little coffee. So delicious!
Here’s a salad for the meat lovers out there, and it makes a good meal salad on a warm day, or a starter if you make a smaller portion. If you have vegetarians or non-pork eaters at your table, the salad is also delicious without the salami. You could always add a boiled egg as an alternative.
It’s an easy recipe, and just requires a bit of chopping. The dressing can be made a day ahead to speed things up.
I visited an Italian specialty store to find the ingredients, but you should be able to find similar items at your local grocery store.
I found this Nancy Silverton recipe on the Food & Wine site, and served it with a lovely homemade no-knead focaccia and a crisp white wine. I halved the recipe, and my version feeds four people. The only change I made to the recipe was to add the salami to the top instead of mixing it in with the dressing. That way it can be left off for people who don’t want any, or want less meat; I think it looks nicer with the salami on top for presenting family-style on the table.
What you need:
- 1 & 1/2 tablespoons green-olive tapenade
- 2 tablespoons peperoncini—stemmed, seeded and finely chopped
- 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 3/4 cups bocconcini
- 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
- 2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
- 2 teaspoons minced garlic
- 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
- salt to taste
- freshly ground pepper
- 1/2 small head of iceberg lettuce, halved, cored and finely shredded (about 2 cups)
- 85 grams (3 oz) thinly sliced Genoa salami, cut into thin strips (about 3/4 cup)
- 6 small basil leaves
- 1/4 cup of your favourite green olives
What you do:
- Combine the tapenade, peperocini and half of the olive oil in a bowl, then toss the bocconcini in it. This can be refrigerated and used later or the next day.
- In another bowl combine the lemon juice, vinegar, garlic and oregano. Whisk in the remaining half of the olive oil, then season to taste with salt and pepper.
- Place the shredded lettuce in a large bowl, then add the marinated bocconcini and half of the salad dressing. Toss well, then plate the salad on a large platter.
- Add the salami strips to the top of the salad and top it with the basil and olives. Drizzle on a little bit more dressing, and serve immediately.
This really is a stunning and delicious puff pastry appetizer with a feta-cream cheese spread. The photos on Smitten Kitchen look so much better than mine – but I feel like I’m giving you a more realistic version of this recipe, because we can’t all make things look quite so perfect. I love the olive tapenade filling, and the feta spread is amazing. I was able to put it all together, to high praise from the devourers . . . but I’m not going to lie to you . . . it was a little tricky, and doesn’t quite look like the supermodel version I thought I’d be presenting.
It still looks pretty, and tastes amazing, but it was hard to make the rays look as uniform as the original. The biggest problem was that I baked it for double the time the recipe specified, and it was still not flakey in the middle . . . and yet the people loved it.
The only planning ahead you need to do is to thaw the puff pastry overnight in the fridge, or four hours minimum.
What you need for the tarte soleil:
- 1/2 cup sun dried tomatoes in oil, drained
- 1/3 cup pitted Kalamata olives
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano or 2 teaspoons chopped fresh oregano leaves
- 1 large garlic clove, crushed
- 1 tablespoon olive oil or oil from tomatoes, plus more if needed
- freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 2 packages puffed pastry (I used La Baguette & l’Echalot)
- 1 egg yolk beaten with 1 teaspoon water (for egg wash)
- 1 tablespoon sesame or poppy seeds to sprinkle (optional)
What you need for the dip:
- 170 grams/ 6 ounces feta, crumbled
- 55 grams, 2 ounces cream cheese
- 1/3 cup olive oil
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- salt to taste, or none if your feta is very salty
- freshly ground black pepper to taste
What you do:
- To make the filling, combine the sun dried tomatoes, olives, oregano, garlic, olive oil and pepper in a food processor. Blend until finely chopped. Thin it with some olive oil if it doesn’t seem spreadable.
- Heat the oven to 350F.
- Roll the first package of puff pastry out on a large piece of parchment paper until it is about 30cm/12 inches in diameter. Use a 30cm round bowl or plate as a guide to cut the pastry into a circle. Put this pastry in the fridge, then repeat the process with the other pastry.
- Place the first pastry, still on its parchment paper, on a baking sheet. Spread the filling over the pastry, leaving about 2cm around the edge uncovered. Dab the edges with water and then place the other pastry on top.
- Place a small glass into the centre of the pastry as a guide, so you do not cut all the way into the middle. Cut the pastry into quarters from the edge of the glass out to the edges, at the 3, 6, 9 and 12 o’clock marks. Cut each quarter in half, then each in half again, until you have 32 strips. If the dough becomes difficult to work with you can put it in the freezer to get firmer (or if your freezer is too small, you can just do your best with it, like I did.)
- Remove the glass and begin the twisting; place a finger near the centre circle so that the strip doesn’t break off, and twist each strip a few times.
- Beat the egg yolk with 1 teaspoon of water and brush it over the pastry. Sprinkle with sesame seeds.
- Bake for 30-35 minutes (or much longer in my case) until the pastry is golden brown.
- While the pastry is in the oven, make the feta dip. Blend all the ingredients in a food processor until they are smooth.
- Remove the tart from the oven and let it cool for about 10 minutes. To serve, place it on a serving tray and tear off the rays and dip them in feta or spread it on to eat.
I’m always looking for new ways to prepare vegetables, and with barbecue season finally arriving, this seemed like a great dish to try out. It’s got a slightly sweet sauce that glazes the soft eggplant. I will definitely be making this one again.
I found the recipe on this site, where they suggest serving the eggplant in an udon noodle dish. We ate it on its own as an appetizer, but I think it might also be good on small slices of bread, used like a spread.
What you need:
- 3 japanese eggplants (the long skinny ones)
- 2 tablespoons red miso
- 2 tablespoons mirin (or a sweet rice wine)
- 2 tablespoons tamari
- 1 tablespoon brown sugar
- vegetable oil for griling
What you do:
- Whisk the miso, mirin, tamari and sugar together in a small saucepan. Over medium heat, whisk until the mixture comes to a boil. Continue to cook briefly, just until it has thickened. Set aside to cool.
- Trim the stems from the eggplants and halve them lengthwise. Cut slits into the flesh of the eggplants, cutting almost through to the skin, but being careful not to slice all the way through it.
- Preheat the grill. Brush the fleshy side of each eggplant lightly with oil. When the grill is hot, place the eggplant cut-side down, on the grill. Cook for about 3 minutes; the eggplant should have grill marks on the fleshly side, and be somewhat softened.
- Turn the eggplants skin-side down, and spread the sauce over the fleshy side, all the way to the edges. Cook for about 3 more minutes. The eggplant should be very tender, and the sauce bubbling up.
This is one awesome dish! The puff pastry gets rolled out and baked first, then comes a layer of goat cheese, with egg to thicken it, is added and baked. Finally, the vegetables are piled on, topped with more goat cheese, and then finished under the broiler. A little bit of freshly cracked pepper finishes it off before it gets devoured. I brought this to a potluck while ago and it was a big hit. People have been patiently waiting for me to post the recipe… so here it is, finally.
The mushroom/leek/fennel part can be done ahead of time if you want to have everything ready to go before you prepare the tart. You need to defrost the puff pastry ahead of the time; following the instructions, I put it in the fridge over night, but you may also defrost for just two hours before cooking.
I found the recipe here, and I believe I used the recipe without changing a thing (except the freshly ground pepper on top) – a rare occurrence! Oh, I did do one thing differently; I burned the crust ever so slightly. But it was still delicious. To avoid this next time I will rotate the pan part way through baking, and have some tin foil on hand to cover any parts of the pastry that seem to be getting too dark.
What you need:
- 1 small bulb fennel
- 2 medium leeks, halved lengthwise and rinsed carefully
- 16 medium white mushrooms
- 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon olive oil
- Salt and pepper
- 1 package puff pastry (I used Le Baguette et l’Echalotte’s), defrosted according to package directions
- 3 eggs
- 225 grams (8 ounces) goat cheese (substitute cream cheese if you dislike goat cheese)
What you do:
- Preheat the oven to 400 F. Trim the green top and root off the fennel; quarter it from top to bottom. Using a mandoline or knife, slice the fennel, and then the white and light-green parts of the leeks, as thinly as you can.
- Clean and slice the mushrooms.
- Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a frying pan over medium heat; add the fennel and leeks and sauté until they are just tender, about 6 minutes. Place the fennel in a bowl and set aside.
- Heat the remaining teaspoon of oil in the frying pan over medium-high heat; add the mushrooms and sauté until they are browned, about 5 minutes. Combine the fennel mixture with the mushrooms and cook briefly. Season with salt and pepper to taste and remove from the stove top.
- Lightly flour your countertop and unfold the pastry onto it. Cut the pastry in half lengthwise to create two long rectangles. Roll out to about 12 x 30 cm (5 x 14 inches) and place on baking sheets. Trim about 1cm off the edges all around. Break one of the eggs into a small bowl and beat it slightly. Brush the edges of the pastry with the egg, then use the trimmed pieces to create a raised border around the edges. Brush the whole surface of the pastry with the egg. Prick the inside surface of the pastry all over with a fork, then bake for about 10 minutes until it is a pale gold colour.
- While the pastry is in the oven, use a fork to beat 170 grams (6 ounces) of the goat cheese with the remaining two eggs. If the pastry has puffed up, press it down gently, then spread the goat cheese mixture onto the interior of the pastry. Bake for about 4 minutes, until set.
- Spread the vegetable mixture over the tart, then crumble the rest of the cheese on top. Broil for a few minutes just before serving, watching carefully so it doesn’t burn. Top with freshly cracked pepper and serve immediately.