Impress summer party guests with 3 dishes that require a little effort but yield big rewards
Throughout the year, I spend a lot of time dreaming up ideas for quick, simple, seasonal recipes. I know that if a dish doesn’t require a lot of time and is relatively straightforward, most cooks will be interested in hearing more and giving the recipe a try.
But this week I’m here to offer three new recipes that are not particularly quick or easy. Don’t get me wrong: This is not to say these recipes are wildly difficult or require you to take the day off of work to get it done. No, these are recipes that just require a bit more — more time, patience and preparation. But I promise you the payoff is well worth the effort.
It’s June and that means early summer celebrations: graduations, Father’s Day, family get-togethers, summer meals. When you want something a bit more special than usual and are willing to give just a bit more time, these three recipes — a spinach souffle, a vegetable paella and a strawberry-laced cheesecake — will fit the bill.
A souffle: You’re thinking, ‘Isn’t that really fussy and difficult?’ No and no. Sauteed spinach is folded into a simple white sauce and then gently mixed with whipped up egg whites. The souffles are baked in individual ramekins or a large ovenproof skillet. No fussy souffle pans or paper collars to worry about here. The whipped egg whites create air and cause the souffle to rise. The results are dramatic and surprisingly light. Serve with an arugula and mixed greens salad and warm crusty bread. And make sure everyone is seated and ready to eat because you’ll want to serve the souffles the minute they come out of the oven.
Serves 4 to 8.
- Butter and 3 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese for the souffle ramekins
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 ½ pounds fresh spinach, ends trimmed, washed and dried, (1 pound once you trim and wash)
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Grated nutmeg to taste
- 4 tablespoons butter
- 2 ½ tablespoons flour
- 1 ½ cups whole or 2 % milk
- ¼ cup grated parmesan
- 3 eggs, separated*
*To separate eggs: Have two bowls ready. Gently crack the egg on the side of one bowl and let the egg whites drip out into the bowl. Be very careful not to let any of the yolk dribble in; yolks will make it difficult for the white to whip up properly. Place the yolks in a separate bowl.
- Grease four 2-cup ramekins or eight 1-cup ramekins with butter and then dust with the grated Parmesan cheese, making sure the bottom and sides are fully coated with both ingredients. Place the ramekins on a baking sheet or cookie tray.
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
- In a medium-large saucepan, heat the oil over medium high heat. Add the spinach in batches and cook, stirring, until wilted. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and grated nutmeg. Place the mixture into a fine mesh strainer to cool and drain. Once it’s slightly cool, use your hands, or a small plate, to squeeze out all the excess liquid from the spinach. Chop the spinach and set aside.
- Clean out the saucepan and place over medium heat, Add the butter and cook until thoroughly melted. Stir in the flour and cook, stirring, for about 3 minutes. Slowly whisk in the milk and cook until simmering and slightly thickened, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the grated cheese and whisk until smooth. Season with salt, pepper and more grated nutmeg. Stir in the drained chopped spinach until well combined.
- In a small bowl whisk the egg yolk. Add about ½ cup of the warm spinach mixture until fully combined. Then add the yolk mixture to the remaining spinach mixture and stir until incorporated.
- Whip the egg whites in a large bowl until stiff peaks form. When you lift the beaters the egg whites should hold their shape and not appear wet. Add ½ cup of the whipped whites to the spinach mixture and stir until fully incorporated. Add the remaining whites and stir until there is no sign of egg whites apparent. Divide the mixture equally between the prepared ramekins.
- Bake on the middle shelf for 20 to 22 minutes if using 1 cup ramekins and 30 minutes for 2 cup ramekins; the souffles should be nicely risen and golden brown and not appear to be too “wet.” Try not to open the oven while it bakes. Serve immediately.
A Spanish paella is one of my favorite dishes for summer entertaining — whether it’s a small or large group. Unlike traditional paellas that contain shellfish, sausage and/or chicken, this version focuses on spring and early summer vegetables. The dish can be cooked outdoors on your grill or on your stovetop, and it’s endlessly adaptable.
I won’t try to hide the fact that a good paella requires several steps. But, if you prep most of it ahead of time you can put the paella together in very little time and then pop it on the grill or on the stovetop as soon as your guests arrive.
Let’s talk about paella pans. You don’t need to run out and buy one, but they aren’t costly and will make a very authentic looking and tasting paella. They come in carbon steel, stainless steel and enamel and have a flat, dimpled bottom to spread out the heat evenly. I’ve made this paella using a traditional paella pan, but also tried it with a 12-inch cast iron skillet. You want to choose a skillet that is heavy, with low sides (so the rice doesn’t steam) that will hold heat well.
The sofrito, the heart of a good paella, is made by cooking down onions, garlic tomatoes and chili flakes for an hour. The sofrito and all the vegetables can be prepped ahead of time and covered and refrigerated for hours, or overnight.
You can tweak this recipe in many ways: Add shrimp, clams, mussels, sausage or chicken. If you add sausage or chicken you will need to brown and precook it before adding to the paella. Sausage needs about 3 to 5 minutes per side and chicken needs about 8 minutes per side before adding to the paella where it will finish cooking. Clams and mussels are added directly without any prep after the paella has cooked for about 10 minutes.
A note about paella rice: Traditional paella rice is a short grained rice that absorbs liquid (in this case, stock) quickly while still retaining firm grains. It’s generally called bomba or calasparra rice. If you can’t find bomba rice you can substitute arborio rice which is traditionally used for risotto. And if you can’t find a Spanish or Italian specialty rice you can use short-grain basmati rice but it won’t absorb the liquid in quite the same way and could produce a mushy paella.
If you’re serving a crowd you can double the recipe and use a 16 or 18-inch skillet or paella pan.
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 large onion, or 2 medium, finely chopped, about 3 cups
- ⅓ cup finely chopped sweet red pepper
- 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 2 large tomatoes, grated on the largest opening of a cheese grater (it will “juice” the tomato and you discard the skin)
- Pinch dried chili flakes
- 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
The vegetables, rice and garnishes
- 1 cup cherry tomatoes
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 teaspoon dried crumbled thyme, or 1 tablespoon chopped fresh
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 1 large sweet red pepper
- ½ pound asparagus spears, ends trimmed (try to cut the spears so they are of equal length)
- 1 large leek, dark green section discarded and white and pale green section cut in half lengthwise and then again to get 4 long pieces, washed and dried
- About 4 cups vegetable, chicken, or fish stock
- Pinch saffron, optional
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme, or 1 teaspoon dried
- 2 cups bomba paella rice or arborio rice, see note above
- 1 cup fresh or frozen peas
- ¼ cup finely chopped parsley
- 1 lemon, cut into quarters
- Make the sofrito: In a large 12-inch, heavy, ovenproof skillet or paella pan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring, for about 6 minutes. Add the pepper, garlic, grated tomatoes, chile flakes, vinegar, salt, and pepper and cook, stirring frequently, for one hour. The sofrito will cook down and shrink as it cooks and the flavors will become more concentrated. Let cool; remove from the skillet making sure to keep any oil in the bottom of the pan and cover and refrigerate the sofrito for up to 24 hours.
- Prep the vegetables: To roast the cherry tomatoes: in a small ovenproof skillet or baking dish gently toss the tomatoes, 2 tablespoons of the oil, salt, pepper and thyme. Roast for 40 minutes. Remove and let cool. The tomatoes can be covered and refrigerated for 24 hours.
- Roast the red pepper: Place the pepper directly on a gas flame, moving it from side to side, until the skin is blackened and begins to crack away from the pepper flesh, about 7 to 8 minutes. Alternately you can roast the pepper directly on an outdoor grill or under the broiler. Immediately place in a paper bag to steam the skin off. Remove and peel off the skin and core the pepper removing any seeds. Cut into 4 big long wedges. Cover and refrigerate.
- Prepare the asparagus: Boil about 2 cups of water in a large skillet. Add the asparagus and cook for about 3 to 4 minutes, depending on the thickness, or until almost tender. Drain under cold running water to stop the cooking, and drain. Cover and refrigerate.
- Prepare the leek: In the same skillet, you cooked the sofrito, add the remaining 1 tablespoon of the oil over medium-low heat. Add the leeks, cut side down and cook for 3 to 4 minutes, tossing them once or twice, until almost tender. Cover and refrigerate.
- When you’re ready to put together the paella: Preheat the grill if using (charcoal or gas) until hot about 425 degrees. Place the stock, saffron if using, and thyme into a medium saucepan and bring to a boil.
- Place the sofrito in the same 12-inch skillet over low heat for 2 minutes. Add the rice and cook, stirring it into the sofrito for about 3 to 4 minutes so all the rice is coated. Add 3 cups of the stock, raise the heat to high and bring to a boil. Arrange the asparagus, leeks, pepper strips, and roasted tomatoes on the rice and cover the skillet loosely with aluminum foil. (I like to arrange the asparagus and leeks in a pattern like the spokes of a wheel and fill in with the peppers and tomatoes.)
- Place the skillet on the hot grill (or continue cooking on a stovetop burner) for about 10 minutes. The stock should be bubbling and evaporating. Add the additional cup of stock if and when needed and scatter the peas on top. Cover and continue cooking for another 8 to 10 minutes or until almost all the stock has been absorbed and the rice is almost tender. Just before the stock has all been absorbed, remove the foil and raise the heat to high or about 450 on the grill to create a crust on the bottom of the pan. Remove from the heat and cover with a clean tea towel and let sit for about 5 minutes. Serve hot with lemon wedges and the parsley scattered over the top.
Marbled strawberry cheesecake
This gorgeous strawberry cheesecake is made by cooking up a quick strawberry puree (strawberries, and raspberries if you like, sugar and water are simmered until thickened and then strained) that is swirled into a ricotta, sour cream and cream cheese mixture on top of a graham cracker crust. The berry syrup creates a sophisticated Italian marbled paper look. It’s a sure winner for any summer party. The cake is large (and rich) enough to serve a crowd.
Cheesecake isn’t hard to make but there are several steps to consider: The syrup needs to cool for at least 2 hours, the crust needs to be made and baked ahead of time, and the cake needs to be made a full day ahead of serving.
Serves 12 to 14.
- 12 whole graham crackers (8 by 5 inches)
- 5 tablespoons melted unsalted butter, plus more for greasing the cake pan
- ¼ cup sugar
- Pinch fine salt
For the strawberry puree:
- 3 pints fresh strawberries (or 2 pint strawberries and 1 pint raspberries)
- 1/3 cup water
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
For the cheesecake batter:
- 24 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
- 1 cup whole milk ricotta cheese
- 1 cup sugar
- 4 large eggs, at room temperature
- 1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
- 2 cups sour cream
- Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9 x 2 ¾ inch springform pan and set aside.
- Make the crust: In a food processor blend the graham crackers until finely ground; you should have 1 ½ cups. Add the melted butter, sugar, and salt and pulse to combine. Transfer the graham cracker mixture to the prepared pan, pressing it evenly over the bottom and about 1 inch up the sides of the pan. Bake until set, about 12 to 14 minutes. Set on a wire rack and let cool completely. Reduce the oven temperature to 275 degrees.
- Make the strawberry puree: Place the strawberries and raspberries if using into a medium saucepan with the water and sugar. Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring frequently. Reduce the temperature to moderate and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and place in a fine mesh sieve set over a bowl. Strain the berry syrup into the sieve. Discard the fruit and place the strained syrup back into the saucepan and simmer over medium heat for 10 minutes; you should have about 1 ¼ cups of reduced, thickened syrup. Cover and refrigerate. The syrup must be cool before adding to the cheesecake so plan on refrigerating for at least 2 hours or overnight.
- Make the cheesecake batter: In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the cream cheese, ricotta, and sugar and beat on low speed for 1 minute, until fully incorporated and softened. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well until each is fully incorporated before adding the next. Use a soft spatula to scrape the mixture from the sides and the paddle. Add the vanilla and sour cream and beat until smooth, stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl and the paddle as needed.
- Spoon half the batter into the prepared pan. Drop a quarter of the strawberry puree in spoonfuls on top of the batter in a random pattern. Using a flat table knife, swirl the strawberry puree through the batter, gently swirling it horizontally and then vertically; do not overmix. Top with the remaining batter and then another ¼ of the strawberry puree, again swirling it through the batter. It should look like Italian marbled paper. The remaining berry syrup will be served with the finished cake; cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.
- Place the cake on a baking sheet and bake for 1 hour. Turn the oven off and leave the cake in the warm oven for another hour, then transfer it to a wire cooling rack and let cool to room temperature. The cake center will still be a bit wobbly when you remove it from the oven, but it will firm up as it cools. Gently cover the cake and refrigerate for at least 8 hour or preferably overnight.
- To serve: run a knife under hot water, then dry, and then run the knife around the edge of the pan and remove the springform ring. When ready to cut, warm and dry the knife again and cut the cheesecake.
This article was originally published on WBUR.org.
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