Marinated Zucchini Salad with Olives and Fresh Mozzarella

I'm pretty stoked to report that this post is being sent directly from the Western Headquarters of the Circle B Kitchen.  Which is to say, we're snuggled into our little place here on the Central Coast of California for a couple of weeks.  This time we brought our daughter and 4 of our spectacularly wondrous grandkids (ages 11 to 19).  I don't think it's even possible to describe how much fun we've been having here with them, so I won't even give that a try.  Suffice to say it has been epic.

But their week here is over, they've all flown back home now and the quiet that has settled in their wake is a bit unnerving.  But not in a completely bad way.  We can actually hear the ocean once again, and as much as we miss those monkeys, this is nice too.

And the recipe I'm sharing with you today has nothing whatsoever to do with any of that.  

It's something I made a whole bunch of times before we left home, and every time we were surprised by how good it was.  Just a few simple ingredients... zucchini, fresh mozzarella, kalamata olives and a little lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper, but it's definitely one of those instances where the end result is much better than the sum of its parts.  Or something like that.  Put more succinctly, the experience of this salad seems way better than it should be.

We're talking very thin slices of zucchini which are marinated in olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper.  This on its own was startlingly good, but the addition of the mozzarella and olives made it even more tasty.  There's something about those super thin slices of marinated zucchini...

I used baby zucchini from Trader Joe's, but any zucchini or summer squash will do.

If you don't have a mandoline, just use a vegetable peeler, but if you wanted to use your spiralizer and make zoodles, nobody here's gonna complain.

You can marinate the zucchini for days in the fridge and it only gets better.  When you're ready to serve it, just sprinkle it with olives and chunks of fresh mozzarella and you've got yourself a wondrous side salad for your next barbecue or picnic.  It would also make a great lunch for the office.  I mostly keep a fork handy for diving in whenever the fridge door is open.  Here's the recipe...

Marinated Zucchini Salad with Olives and Fresh Mozzarella

Click here for a printable recipe

We were surprised at how scrumptious this salad turned out to be.  The flavors and textures are spot on and make the perfect summer side dish.  One of the beauties of this salad is that you can prepare the zucchini days in advance - it only gets better the longer it marinates.  Just stir in the cheese and olives just before serving.  I used baby zucchini from Trader Joe's and they were the perfect size for a salad.  I recommend you use the smallest squash you can find and if need be, slice them in half or quarters lengthwise before running them through the mandoline.  I only had a ball of fresh mozzarella on hand, but can imagine how delicious it would be with the buffalo mozzarella.  Enjoy!

Reciped Adapted from Food52

Ingredients:
4 medium yellow or green zucchini
Juice of one lemon (about 3 tablespoons)
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 balls buffalo mozzarella (I used standard fresh mozzarella)
16 kalamata olives, pitted and halved
Fresh basil and oregano leaves (cilantro and mint work well, too), finely chopped

Cut the zucchini into ribbons with a mandoline or a vegetable peeler. Put them in a bowl and add the lemon juice, olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste. Stir well. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

Cut the mozzarella into small pieces and add them, the olives, and the chopped herbs to the chilled zucchini. Taste for salt and pepper.  Stir well and serve!

Banana Breakfast Crumb Cake

We've all been there; that bowl of ripe bananas on the counter getting riper by the minute.  You can hear the clock ticking... any moment now those babies are going south; brown and shmushy being their inevitable fate.  But you have a few options available to prevent the ultimate horror of over-ripeness.  Firstly, you could pop them in the fridge which really does slow down the ripening process.  It also turns the skins a very dark brown, but the banana itself will still be good for several days longer.  

Or you might pull out a loaf pan and get some banana bread made pronto, or you could throw em in the blender and make smoothies for everyone, or you could also slice em up and throw em in the freezer to be used at a later date for ice cream or future smoothies.

But then you could maybe do what I did and make yourself an incredibly delicious banana breakfast cake.  There are no bad options in that list of possible banana uses, but this breakfast cake was a revelation... moist, flavorful and just the right amount of crunch with that crumb topping.  Such a lovely way to accompany one's coffee first thing in the morning, and a very happy way to start the day.

Those of you who have been reading this blog for any amount of time know that I'm not much for extended cooking projects first thing in the morning (not that this is all that difficult, but it does require one to be fairly awake and conscious for most of the steps).   You will be happy to hear that I made this the day before and warmed some up for our breakfast.  And it was perfect. Because it's so moist, it keeps very well on the counter overnight (tightly covered) and for several days (or longer) in the fridge.  It doesn't even need to be warmed, but it was ever so good that way.

And, by the way, it's not just the cooking that I resist first thing in the morning, there's also this...

Best to not have to face this before at least 2 cups of coffee, right?  If you're like me and happen to be cooking-averse before 10 a.m., another option might be to mix the cake ingredients and the crumb topping separately the night before, stash them in the fridge and assemble and bake the next morning. Can't think of too many things better than waking up to the aromas of banana cake baking in the oven.  Except possibly the blissfully divine experience of nibbling on a piece of said cake with one's morning coffee.   Here's the recipe...

Banana Breakfast Crumb Cake

Click here for a printable recipe

Recipe courtesy of Relish Magazine

As I mentioned in the blog post, this is fairly simple to put together, but you can easily make and bake this the day before.  It keeps beautifully on the counter overnight or in the fridge for longer.  You could also make the cake and topping separately, stash them in the fridge overnight and then assemble and bake the next morning.  However you choose to put this together, you will be well rewarded.

Topping:
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter
1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts

Cake:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
2/3 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup mashed very ripe bananas (I used a little more than this)
1/3 cup 2 percent low-fat milk

Preheat oven to 350F. Coat a 9-inch-square baking pan with cooking spray.

For topping, combine flour, brown sugar, cinnamon and butter in a food processor and process until mixture resembles fine crumbs. Stir in walnuts.

For cake, combine flour, baking soda, baking powder, nutmeg and salt in a medium bowl.

Beat butter with a mixer at medium speed about 30 seconds or until smooth. Gradually add sugar and beat 3 to 4 minutes or until fluffy. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each. Add vanilla and bananas and beat until well blended. Add flour mixture alternately with milk, mixing after each addition only until smooth. Pour batter into prepared pan; sprinkle with topping.

Bake about 35 to 45 minutes, until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. (Mine needed about 40 minutes).  Cool in pan on a wire rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.

The cake can be covered tightly and stored on the counter overnight and reheated in a low oven (300-325 degrees) to crisp the topping.  It will also keep for several days (or longer) in the fridge.

Avocado Hummus

This is an outstandingly delicious hummus dip that we probably shouldn't even be calling hummus.  The hummus police tend to be sticklers when it comes to what sorts of ingredients go into their traditional chickpea dip, and I knowingly risk the ire of those folks by daring to mention hummus and avocado in the same breath.

But we're accustomed to living dangerously here in the Circle B Kitchen, and if avocado makes hummus just that much more luscious, then we're in.  Hummus purists might want to give this one a taste before judging; we could have a few converts.

The recipe comes to us via the good folks at Food and Wine magazine.  It was delicious exactly as they made it, but I couldn't help messing with it just a bit.  Of course, I added a bit more tahini, because Tahini!  I also cut back on the amount of olive oil, but we loved that drizzle on top.  I also added a few toasted pine nuts at the finish for some crunch and texture.  Mmmmmm.

And if you're a card-carrying member of the hummus police (we know you're out there), we're fine if you prefer to call this "avocado chickpea dip".  It's still gonna taste awesome.  Here's the recipe...

Avocado Hummus

This is such a deliciously luscious version of traditional chickpea hummus.  We loved the silky texture and lovely flavors that avocado brings to the party.  I added a little more tahini and less olive oil than the original recipe below, and I also added toasted pine nuts to finish the dish.  Good stuff.

Click here for a printable recipe

Recipe adapted Food and Wine magazine

2 medium Hass avocados, peeled and roughly chopped
One 15-ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 tablespoons tahini sesame paste (I added closer to 2 tablespoons)
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling (I only used between 1/4 and 1/3 cup)
Kosher salt
Freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
Assorted crudités, pita chips, crackers, bread or tortilla chips for serving

In a food processor, puree the avocados with the chickpeas, lemon juice and tahini. Add the 1/2 cup of oil and puree until smooth; season with salt and pepper. Transfer the dip to a bowl, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with freshly cracked pepper and toasted pine nuts.

Serve with crudites, crackers, bread or chips.

Click here to ask a question or leave a comment

Grilled Panzanella Salad with Roasted Peppers and Torn Mozzarella

I'm having a hard time imagining a more perfect summertime meal than this grilled panzanella salad.  I've made it numerous times this summer, switching up the ingredients and experimenting a bit.  And I'm here to tell you that there's just no way to mess this up.  It's just always good; grilled bread, you know?  

I've made it as a main course by adding a little grilled chicken, but it could most definitely be a main course without it.  I've made it with all grilled peppers and no tomatoes, I've added cucumbers and grilled zucchini,  and one time I used little bocconcini (small mozzarella balls in water) instead of the torn shards of fresh mozzarella.  We've loved every single incarnation, but I think I've settled on our favorite version, which is what I'm sharing with you today.

Our favorite version combines roasted peppers, fresh, juicy tomatoes, grilled bread and onions, fresh mozzarella, and either fresh parsley or basil.

If you've never had the good fortune of enjoying panzanella, it is truly one of those wondrous dishes that came to us from "poverty cuisine".  This one originates in Italy as far back as the 1500's.  Those smart cooks knew that they could extend the life of a loaf of bread by softening it in olive oil and tomato juices and combining it with whatever vegetables might be available.  It's somewhat similar to Fattoush, an Israeli/Lebanese salad that uses pita bread instead of a baguette, but I'm guessing it has similar origins.  All that to say... stale bread is very welcome here.

Yes, we've upped the panzanella game just a bit by grilling our bread and veggies and throwing in some fresh mozzarella, but the salad still offers up an earthy, homey experience that puts it squarely in the comfort food file for me.

Comfort food meets summertime grill meets summer veggies... here's the recipe...

Grilled Panzanella With Roasted Peppers and Torn Mozzarella

This is our favorite version of panzanella salad, which began with a recipe from Serious Eats.  I’ve made some changes to the recipe, but if you’d like to consult the original, you’ll find the link below.  Salting the tomatoes to extract their juice is crucial to this salad’s success, so don’t skip that part.  It’s also why you need to use very ripe tomatoes.  I used heirloom tomatoes that were very heavy and so delicious.  When the juices from the tomatoes mingle with the olive oil and soak into the bread, it really is quite heavenly.

Click here for a printable recipe

Recipe adapted from Serious Eats

2 large very ripe tomatoes, cut into 1-inch chunks
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 bell peppers, cut into halves or thirds
1 large red onion, cut into 3/4-inch slices, each slice held together with 2 wooden skewers*
1 (1-pound) loaf day-old Italian bread, sliced into 1-inch thick slices
Lots of torn fresh mozzarella ( lots of little bocconcini)
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided
Salt and Freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
Lots of fresh parsley or basil for serving

*  I didn't use the skewers, but sort of wished I had as I lost some of that gorgeous onion into the flames.  But if you're good with a spatula, you might pull it off without the skewers.

1. Toss tomato chunks with 1/2 teaspoon salt in large bowl. Set aside at room temperature. Brush peppers, red onion, and bread slices with 1/4 cup olive oil and season with salt and pepper.

2. Preheat a charcoal or gas grill to high and place peppers, and onions on grate. Cover and cook until first side is lightly charred, about 4 minutes. Flip, cover, and cook until charred on second side and vegetables are tender, about 4 minutes longer (depending on size of vegetables, some may take longer or shorter to cook. Remove from grill as they become tender). Transfer to cutting board and tent loosely with foil.

3. Meanwhile, grill bread until golden brown on both sides. Transfer to cutting board with vegetables cut bread and vegetables into rough 1-inch cubes and transfer to bowl with tomatoes. Add the remaining olive oil and vinegar.  Tear the mozzarella cheese into pieces and toss everything to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper. 

To serve, sprinkle the salad with torn basil or parsley.

Click here to ask a question or leave a comment

Sesame Tahini Noodles

I'm having a bit of an obsession with tahini at the moment.  I want to put it in and on everything. Of course, it always goes into our hummus, right?  But if your jar of tahini sits in your fridge languishing between hummus feedings, then I'd say it's time to up your tahini game.

As I've been reading up on tahini recently, I've learned that all tahini pastes are not created equal. The very best are imported from the Middle East and are often carried in specialty stores or can be ordered online.

 I really like Trader Joe's tahini, but mainly what you're looking for is a smooth, velvety, loose texture.  You don't want something thick and pasty.  That pretty much means it's not so fresh. You're gonna want to pass on that. 

 Tahini makes an awesome dip (add a little lemon juice, salt and pepper) or salad dressing (here are a couple of awesome recipes for that).  You can even use it to make cookies (think peanut butter cookies without the peanut butter).  I use it as a dressing in this scrumptious farro dish and I love to stir it into brown rice with a little squirt of lemon and harissa (that's also good as a crudite dip).

Oh, but these noodles...

... so very good. You can completely customize them and add whatever and however many veggies you would like to include, or leave them out entirely.  Your call.  Shrimp or chicken would also be a nice addition.  It's really all about the tahini, so here's the recipe...

Sesame Tahini Noodles

Click here for a printable recipe

I didn't make too many changes to this scrumptious recipe other than to switch up the veggies a bit.  I blanched some green beans, red peppers, broccoli and baby zucchini, which made this basically a one-pan meal.  I also swapped out the Sriracha for Harissa which I'm putting on just about everything these days. You can leave out the veggies entirely or choose from the list in the recipe or add shrimp or chicken if you like.  This is a totally versatile dish that highlights the particular deliciousness of tahini.

Recipe Adapted from Food 52

Serves 4-6

Dressing:
1/2 cup reduced-sodium soy sauce
1/2 cup tahini
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
4 cloves garlic, minced (I used 2 cloves)
3 tablespoons agave syrup
1/4 cup unseasoned rice wine vinegar
1-2 teaspoons Sriracha (I used Harissa)

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Noodles and toppings: (see headnote)
1 pound dried spaghetti
Veggie options...

2 carrots, peeled and grated
2 cups fresh green beans, blanched in salted water, chopped  
Blanched broccoli florets
Zucchini slices
Red pepper, sliced

1/2 medium red onion, thinly sliced

And I added...
Toasted sesame seeds and a couple of sliced scallions for topping

Directions:

Boil a large pot of salted water and cook the pasta in it until desired toothsomeness is achieved, about 10 minutes.

While the pasta cooks, combine dressing ingredients in a blender or processor and pulse until creamy.

Add the dressing to the warm, drained pasta and veggies and top with a sprinkling of toasted sesame seeds and sliced scallions.