Sunday, August 23, 2020

Zucchini Dip with Summer Veggies & Toasted Bread

When days are long and dinner is still in the works, I like to serve something to nibble on. This can be as simple as cheese or nuts, but if I’m feeling creative, this can range all the way up to savory pastries or a selection of dips.

I had a few zucchini looking somewhat forlorn in the kitchen and some hungry kids waiting for dinner, so a dip was the obvious answer. This is a summery, roasted zucchini dip, which is both luxurious and easy to make, inspired somewhat by that famous dip called 'Baba Ganoush', the famous smoky roasted eggplant (aubergine) dip of Levantine origin, which happens to be one of my favorite dips to serve in summer and which I like to make with a bit of a chunky texture.

This zucchini (courgette) dip is a breeze to make, provided you can be organized. The one thing to remember is that it really is best done the day before, but this is something I would happily also eat the same day it was made - I have also made it the same day, and it still tastes really good.

Once the dip is done, put it in a bowl and serve it with the freshest August produce you can find. Go with carrot batons, baby corn, fresh multi-colored cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, celery sticks. Big fat olives. Toasted bread slices. Or both. Or all. 

As I visited the farmers market in the beautiful city of Aachen (Aix-la-Chapelle/Germany) the other day, I came across some gorgeous organic produce, a selection of peppers, including black ones and an assortment of chilis - the farmer told me that they have specialized in growing a variety of chilis with different levels of heat - I happily bought a selection of both the paprikas and the chilis and served them alongside the dip and toasted slices of baguette.

As far as the herbs that I use for the dip are concerned, I use so-called hard herbs for roasting the veggies to infuse them with their herbal flavors. Hard herbs often grow through the winter and have woody stems. They include bay, rosemary, thyme and sage. These herbs are hardier and  keep their flavor throughout prolonged cooking or roasting. They are the herbs that are added at the beginning of cooking.

After roasting, I remove the hard herbs and I add so-called soft herbs just before serving. These usually include herbs such as basil, coriander, thyme, tarragon, dill, marjoram and parsley. They are added at the end of cooking to finish off the dish. And for this dish, I like to use multi-colored (and flavored) basil with their blossoms. Sometimes I have a few tender arugula (rocket) leaves and will add them as well. Just go with what you like and what is available to you.

Summery Zucchini Dip

  • 3 zucchini (courgette) or more (depending on the size you use), washed, dried and cubed
  • 6 garlic cloves - do not peel them (you can omit garlic if you prefer)
  • 2 tbsp olive oil (suitable for cooking)
  • sea salt to taste
  • fresh garden herbs (I suggest rosemary, thyme, oregano, lemon thyme, sage – go with what you have on hand and what you like)
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • freshly squeezed lemon juice from 1 lemon (or more, depending on the size of the lemon you use)
  • 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil 
  • fresh basil or arugula (rocket) to serve 

  1. Pre-heat your oven to 180°C (356°F). 
  2. In a large bowl, toss together the prepared zucchini, garlic cloves (unpeeled), olive oil, salt and herbs.
  3. Place the zucchini mix on a parchment lined baking sheet and roast it in a hot oven for about 60 minutes at 180°C (356°F) or until the zucchini is cooked through and has some lovely brown spots from roasting.
  4. Once cooked allow to cool to room temperature.
  5. Remove the herbs and the garlic cloves from the roasted zucchini mix. Discard the herbs. Keep the garlic cloves and squeeze them from their skin.
  6. Then transfer the zucchini to your work surface and using the tines of a fork, squash the zuchhini well. If you are unable to squash some of the zucchini pieces (because the skin might be a bit too tough), use a knife to cut them.
  7. Next, scoop the flesh into a bowl and add the garlic, freshly ground black pepper, lemon juice, and salt to taste and mix well. 
  8. Leave overnight in the fridge to set and allow the flavors to develop.
  9. The next day, taste the dip and season to taste with more pepper, salt and lemon juice. Serve cold or at room temperature with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil olive and finish with torn basil leaves or arugula. Accompany with toasted bread and veggies.

This dip is a very tasty way to use some of the glut of zucchini that is available just about now. And, personally, I believe it's a very nice change from the dips that I usually serve this time of year. I like that it is still a bit chunky and that the fresh lemon juice makes for a wonderful flavor balance to the natural sweetness that August zucchini have. Enjoy.

Sunday, August 2, 2020

Summer Lasagne with Spinach & Ricotta

It’s August, a wonderful month to cook summer lasagne with all sorts of seasonal vegetables. There are so many vegetables that can be added to a lasagne including zucchini (courgettes), summer squash, eggplants (aubergines) and mushrooms. As spinach and ricotta is such a winning combination, why not put a twist on the classic lasagne and create my vegetarian version with alternating layers of a creamy spinach and ricotta filling, a bold tomato sauce and lots of grated mozzarella for that extra deliciousness.

Whenever I serve lasagne, I make sure to serve fresh bread alongside to mop up any sauce and most of the times I also prepare a mixed green salad alongside or a variety of herb and citrus marinated olives and caper berries. And just before serving, I always add freshly picked basil leaves from the garden on top of the warm lasagne - love the way that smells when I bring the lasagne to the table. And when I have fresh arugula (rocket), I make sure to fry a bunch in olive oil, drain them well and season them lightly with sea salt - the pretty green curled-up leaves will add brightness, delightful bitterness and crunch to the dish.

Spinach & Ricotta Lasagne 

  • 800g spinach (I recommend fresh baby or young spinach leaves), washed well, stems removed
  • 4 spring onions, washed, dried, sliced thinly (you can substitute 2 diced onions here)
  • 4 cloves of garlic, crushed (you can omit the garlic if you prefer)
  • freshly ground black pepper, sea salt, a few peperoncini flakes
  • extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4 x 400g cans of quality Italian plum tomatoes
  • ½ a bunch of fresh basil (or more to taste)
  • 2 x 250g ricotta cheese (you can also use homemade ricotta if you prefer)
  • 200ml cooking cream 
  • freshly grated Parmesan cheese (about 50 g)
  • grated zest of 1 organic lemon
  • fresh lasagne sheets (use fresh homemade pasta sheets or good-quality storebought ones)
  • 2 x 200g grated mozzarella (you can use low ft mozzarella if you prefer)

  1. Place the spinach in a large pot of boling water and blanch very briefly (about 1 minute) until the spinach has just wilted. Drain into a colander and set aside to cool a little while you prepare the tomato sauce.
  2. For the tomato sauce heat a drizzle of olive oil and gently sweat two thinly sliced spring onions (or 1 diced onion), 2 cloves of crushed garlic (if using) and peperoncini until soft (this will take just a few minutes).
  3. Cut the tomatoes in their cans before adding them to the onion mixture, add a few basil leaves with their stems (make sure to remove the stems after cooking and before assembling the lasagne) and then let it gently simmer for 20 minutes until the sauce has thickened. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  4. Now squeeze the moisture out of the spinach, place the spinach on a board so you can chop it up. 
  5. Heat a drizzle of olive oil and gently sweat the remaining two sliced spring onions (or 1 diced onion) and 2 cloves of crushed garlic (if using) until soft. Turn off the heat then stir the ricotta, cooking cream, grated Parmesan and the grated lemon zest into the spinach. Season to taste.
  6. In the meantime preheat your oven to 180°C (350°F).
  7. Now spoon some tomato sauce over the base of a large baking dish (mine measures 24cm x 30cm/9.5in x 12in) then cover with slightly overlapping lasagne sheets. Pour over a third of the ricotta-spinach mixture, then dot with some tomato sauce and sprinkle over some of the grated mozzarella. Cover with another layer of lasagne sheets and repeat. Finish with a layer of lasagne sheets topped with tomato sauce and some more mozzarella, drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil and season with freshly ground black pepper.
  8. Place in the oven and cook for 30 to 35 minutes or till the top is golden and the pasta tender (if the top browns too fast, cover the dish with foil).
  9. Remove from the oven and let stand for a few minutes (I recommend about 15 minutes) before serving with the remaining basil leaves or olive oil-fried arugula (rocket).

If you like to plan ahead or prepare your lunch/dinner ahead of time, the lasagne can be assembled up to a day ahead. Cool, cover and keep chilled. Or you can freeze it, well wrapped, for up to 3 months and you can then cook from frozen until the lasagne is golden on top and piping hot throughout (a large dish will take around one hour).

Also, if you prefer to use fresh summer tomatoes instead of canned, feel free to do so - make an X on the bottom of your tomatoes, place them into a pot of boiling water for no more than a minute. Carefully take them out using a slotted spoon, plunge them into a bowl of cold water (or an ice bath), lift them out and peel back the skin with a knife and chop. 

Actually, you can also make the lasagne sheets from scratch and the ricotta that you use can also be homemade if you prefer but if time is of the essence or the kitchen is rather warm during the summer months, this lasagne will taste just as wonderful if you chose to use lovingly selected, good-quality ingredients and not make everything from scratch.

Enjoy August cooking as much as possible with the best vegetables the season has to offer. If you can, serve your lasagne for an alfresco lunch in the garden. 

For more inspiration with respect to your summertime cooking, you can also visit my instagram account or my facebook page and take a look around there. There are quite a few culinary delights that can be discovered there, such as my Sweet Potato Hummus with spicy Chickpeas, grilled Carrots and baked Tortilla Chips or my Cherry Tomato and Goat's Cheese Tart, to name but a few.

Unfortunately, I do not always find the time to post the entire recipes for all those dishes that I make during the week but I do make a point of posting lots of pics and tips on my insta and fb sites. If you happen to have a question with respect to any recipe, I encourage you to contact me and I will get back to you asap.