sweet and spicy red pepper jam recipe | writes4food.com

Sweet-spicy red bell pepper jam.

“Sometimes I think you make things just so you can use your cute little Weck jars,” said Rob.

“Right,” I said. “And the problem is …?”

This Sweet-Spicy Red bell Pepper Jam recipe isn’t just an excuse to use those cute little Weck jars. It stems from a memorable meal we had at Scopa in Healdsburg, CA, on vacation months ago. An appetizer of toasted rustic bread, housemade burrata and Calabrian red pepper jam started our meal — and should have ended it, really, because it was just. that. good.

I purchased a jar of Calabrian red pepper jam online, but vowed to make a batch of my own once red bell peppers in our garden started producing. And that is this recipe.

Peppers are tricky, right? Some varieties are super hot, and even within the variety some are much hotter than others. So use this pepper jam recipe as a guide, switching in more or less jalapeno depending on how hot yours are. (When I tasted this first batch, I though it could have used a bit more spice.) A bit of apple adds sweetness, body and, importantly, natural pectin to help set the jam. You’ll start with about 2 pounds (a bit over is OK) of produce to 2 cups of sugar.

What can you do with Sweet-Spicy Red Pepper Jam? Well, there’s that burrata-and-grilled bread thing, which I cannot recommend highly enough. The jam is great on a cheese platter, particularly with salty cheeses like Pecorino or Manchego. It would rock on a BLT. Or as a glaze for grilled chicken kebabs or grilled salmon.

While red peppers are abundant, give this recipe a try. You don’t even need fancy jars.

sweet red bell pepper jam recipe

makes about 1 1/2 cups

1 3/4 pounds red bell peppers + red jalapeno peppers, seeded and chopped (see Note)
1 small apple, cored, chopped
2 cups sugar
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
Pinch of salt
Few drops red food coloring (optional)

(Note: Use any combination of bell and jalapeno peppers; add more of the latter if you want more heat. You'll want your produce to total about 2 pounds.) Place the peppers and apple in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until coarsely mashed. Transfer the mixture (along with any juices) to a heavy-bottomed, high-sided pan. Add the vinegar and sugar. Add food coloring if desired. Slowly bring the mixture to a boil, then boil rapidly, occasionally stirring and scraping the bottom of the pan to prevent scorching, until it becomes thick, dark and syrupy, about 25–30 minutes. Use a candy or digital thermometer to check temperature; it should reach 220° for soft/jelly set. Alternately, spoon a bit of jam onto a small plate and put it in the freezer for a minute or two; it should resemble a soft-set jam. The jam will thicken as it cools. Transfer to small jars and freeze up to 1 year, or process in a water bath canner per directions found on FreshPreserving.com.

summer vegetable casserole with cheesy breadcrumb topping recipe | writes4food.com

Summer vegetable gratin.

When the interminable stretch of heat and 150% humidity finally broke recently, I was somewhat motivated to turn on the oven to make something for dinner. I browsed through my binder full of recipes and magazine clippings and found a page from a 2015 edition of Food & Wine featuring a recipe for a vegetable casserole topped with crunchy, cheesy breadcrumbs. Perfect.

I had nearly everything on hand: green beans and bell pepper from my garden, corn from the farmstand, a couple of zucchini sitting in the fridge. I picked up some shelling beans from Scott Farm at Findlay Market and cooked them in broth. From there, it was a matter of chopping, sautéing and stirring in cream and eggs. I tinkered with the original recipe a bit; you could add or omit your favorite summer vegetables to the mix.

We loved this vegetable casserole as a main course for dinner, with a salad of sliced tomato and burrata, and some crusty bread and homemade butter. It would also make a terrific side dish for grilled chicken or steak.

This is the perfect summer-to-fall transition dish, to make while summer produce is still abundant and the days shorten and cool enough where you’re totally fine with the idea of firing up the oven.

summer vegetable casserole recipe

serves 8

2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, diced
1 bell pepper, diced
2 small zucchini, diced
1/2 pound slender green beans, trimmed, cut in 1-inch pieces
3 large cloves garlic, sliced
2 cups cooked lima beans (or other shelling beans; thawed if frozen)
4 ears corn, kernels removed
1 teaspoon Aleppo pepper (or a dash of cayenne)
Coarse salt
1/2 cup vegetable stock or water
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
1 cup heavy cream
2 large eggs
1 cup panko breadcrumbs
1 cup shredded white cheese (gruyere, Swiss, mozzarella)

Preheat oven to 425°; grease a large baking dish. In a large skillet, heat the butter and olive oil over medium heat; add onion, bell pepper and zucchini. Cook, stirring, until vegetables begin to soften, 5–7 minutes. Add green and shelling beans; cook another 5 minutes. Add garlic and corn; cook until all vegetables are tender but not mushy, about 5 minutes more. Add stock or water and simmer until liquid evaporates. Season vegetables with salt, Aleppo pepper; add basil and chives. Let cool slightly. Transfer vegetables to baking dish. In a glass measuring cup, whisk together cream and eggs. Pour over vegetables and stir to combine. On a piece of waxed paper, toss together breadcrumbs and shredded cheese. Sprinkle evenly over casserole. Bake 25–30 minutes, until topping is golden and mixture is bubbly. Let sit 10 minutes before serving.

caprese salad + homemade ricotta

Caprese salad with homemade ricotta.

In today’s edition of the Cincinnati Enquirer, I shared several variations on the traditional insalata Caprese — that classic combination of sliced ripe tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, basil and olive oil. If you want to mix it up a bit, substituting homemade ricotta cheese for the mozz and homemade pesto for the basil is a nice change of flavor and texture.

Homemade ricotta is ridiculously easy and, frankly, a lot of fun. It takes just a few minutes of cooking and straining to create your own sweet, creamy ricotta. Give this a try!

sweet and creamy homemade ricotta cheese recipe

3 1/2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup heavy cream
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

Line a colander with two layers of cheesecloth, and place it in a larger bowl to catch the whey. In a medium heavy saucepan, combine the milk, cream and lemon juice; cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the mixture registers 190° on an instant-read thermometer. Watch in amazement as the mixture begins to separate into soft, small curds and watery whey (if this doesn't happen right at 190°, keep simmering until curds form). Continue simmering for about 2 minutes, until the curds come together; cook a bit longer if you like ricotta with larger curds. Then use a strainer to gently lift the solids into the cheesecloth-lined colander. Pour any remaining liquid into the colander and let the mixture drain for about 10 minutes for creamy, tender ricotta; longer for a drier, firmer cheese. Salt the ricotta to taste if you'd like. I prefer it unsalted, so I can add seasoning as I use it.

I've kept homemade ricotta in the refrigerator for about 10 days with no problem. Keep the whey, too—you can use it in place of water or milk to make pancakes or biscuits or oatmeal, or for boiling potatoes for mashing.

zucchini and cheddar pizza recipe | writes4food.com

Summery zucchini and cheddar pizza.

I shared this recipe for Zucchini and Cheddar Pizza in last Wednesday’s column for the Cincinnati Enquirer, which suggested three ideas for using that summertime glut of zucchini. Anyone who’s ever grown zucchini knows the Height of Summer Zucchini Problem, and the usual solution is zucchini bread, which is all well and good, but then you end up with too much zucchini bread.

I adapted this recipe from Smitten Kitchen, whose original used gruyère instead of cheddar (a fine substitution) and called for a larger baking pan. This cheesy zucchini pizza is supereasy to put together, inexpensive to make, and downright delicious for dinner with a big plate of sliced tomatoes. And it’s tasty at room temp for lunch the next day.

Zucchini and Cheddar Pizza

serves 4

1 lb. pizza dough
3 large zucchini (green and/or yellow), ends trimmed
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
8 ounces sharp cheddar
Freshly ground pepper or red pepper flakes
3 tablespoons panko breadcrumbs

Preheat oven to 500°; if you have a pizza stone, place it on the center rack to preheat. Rub a 10.5-inch-by-15.5-inch rimmed sheet pan with olive oil. Using oiled fingertips, press and stretch the dough into the pan, pinching together any holes that form.

In a food processor fitted with the large shredding blade, shred the zucchini; you’ll have about packed 4 cups. Use the same to shred the cheddar. In a colander, toss together the zucchini and salt; let stand 30 minutes or more to release liquid from zucchini. With your hands and some paper towels, squeeze the zucchini as dry as possible; transfer to a large bowl and add the cheddar, tossing to combine. Add pepper or red pepper flakes to taste. Spread the zucchini-cheddar mixture evenly on the dough from edge to edge. Sprinkle breadcrumbs evenly over zucchini. Place the pan on top of the pizza stone; bake 25–30 minutes, until the pizza is deeply golden on top. Cut into squares.

homemade sweet and salty trail mix recipe | writes4food.com

Sweet and salty trail mix.

So, apparently next Wednesday, August 31, is National Trail Mix Day. Who knew?!

The folks at Nuts.com asked if I’d share my favorite homemade trail mix recipe, and since I now have trail mix on the brain, I thought I’d oblige. Besides, I’m anticipating an upcoming road trip vacation this fall, and my own trail mix is a staple item on my packing list for travel of any sort.

Since I don’t have a big sweet tooth, my ideal trail mix recipe blends sweet and savory flavors, with healthy cereal and nuts and just a bit of peanut butter. I think this trail mix is fairly virtuous compared to the prepackaged stuff you might find in the grocery … but c’mon, it can’t be all twigs-and-berries, right? Hence, a handful of Reese’s Pieces.

The problem, of course, is that I now have a stash of this trail mix at my desk, and I … can’t … stop … nibbling …

homemade sweet and salty trail mix recipe

makes about 4 cups

1 cup oat or wheat square cereal
1 cup pretzel nuggets, sticks, fish or mini twists
1/2 cup roasted, unsalted pistachios
1/2 cup roasted, unsalted almonds
1/2 cup large raisins
1/2 cup Reese's pieces

Toss everything together in a large bowl, and store in an airtight container.

freshly grown figs

Fun ingredient of the week: figs.

This isn’t so much a recipe post, but a little celebration of gardening success. A couple of years ago, when I visited Vicky Tewes’s lovely Thistlehair Farm in Union, KY, she had several large fig trees growing in pots around the farmstand. That fall, I found a potted fig at a local nursery and brought it home. It died of overwatering in the garage that winter. Fast forward to last spring, when I again found a potted fig — variety Chicago Hardy — and brought it home. It bore a couple of puny figs last fall, and it didn’t die of overwatering in the garage last winter.

Double-fast-forward to last week, when the tree brought forth maybe four dozen beautifully ripe figs. Chicago Hardy for the win!

fig tree

In spite of our first-winter failure, I’ve found the fig remarkably easy to grow, once I, um, fig-ured it out. The tree itself is beautiful: shapely, with lovely leaves. It likes sun and heat. Seeking to bolster its output this year, I did some online research and found that figs need ample water and fertilizer in order to produce fat, juicy fruit. We watered the tree every day in the hottest stretch of summer (when, you know, it wasn’t downpouring). I fed it every 3 weeks or so, using Espoma’s Garden-Tone organic fertilizer.

Very early in summer, the tree was full of thumb-sized fruit, green and hard as pebbles. About a week ago, overnight, a number of the fruits turned deep purple. I picked just a couple, but noticed that every day the remaining purple figs were getting bigger and softer. So I waited to pick more, and then … boom! They all got fat and soft and perfectly ripe, all at once. Before the ants and chipmunks could feast on them, I used a paring knife to trim a colander-ful of figs off the tree.

So, what do you do with fresh figs?

Figs, meet your BFF: prosciutto.

Grilled Figs in prosciutto recipe

Here's the very best thing to do with fresh figs: Cut 1 dozen fresh figs in half. Cut 3 pieces of thinly sliced prosciutto, the best you can find, into 4 strips, and wrap each fig half in a piece of prosciutto. Grill over medium heat for about 5 minutes, until the prosciutto is a little charred and crispy. Throw a heavy dose of freshly ground black pepper over. Pop one of these little fruity-porky gems in your mouth, and I promise you: You'll go find a fig tree of your own this fall. (Cincinnati peeps, check Natorp's.)

recipe for smooth tomato gazpacho | writes4food.com

Creamy tomato gazpacho.

Recently, I shared my mom’s make-it-every-summer recipe for gazpacho, that lovely cold soup packed full of seasonal vegetables. Here’s another take on gazpacho that I really like; it includes a bit of bread that’s traditional in Spanish recipes, which gives the soup a bit of body without weighing it down.

Like all gazpacho recipes, this one’s best made at least 1 day before you plan to enjoy it. Hop on over to your backyard garden or local farmers’ market to pick up all the goodies and pull out the blender — it’s gazpacho time, people!

Smooth & creamy gazpacho recipe

4 cups chopped tomato (about 3 large)
1/2 large red bell pepper, chopped
1 clove garlic
1 hamburger or hotdog bun
6 tablespoons + 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons sherry or champagne vinegar
Pinch of cumin (optional)
Pinch of smoked paprika or pimenton (optional)
Sea salt and finely ground pepper

Tear about one-quarter of the hotdog or hamburger bun into small pieces; measure out 1/4 cup of bread (packed). Transfer the bread, tomato, bell pepper, garlic, 6 tablespoons olive oil, vinegar, cumin and paprika to a blender. Pulse a few times to chop, then purée the mixture until it’s completely smooth and rather frothy, about 3 or 4 minutes. Taste the gazpacho and add salt and finely ground pepper; blend to combine. Transfer the gazpacho to a glass bowl, cover and refrigerate for at least an hour, preferably overnight.

Cut the remaining bun into 1/2-inch cubes. In a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil until it shimmers. Add bread cubes, toss to coat with oil and sauté the croutons until they’re deeply toasted and dark golden all over, about 3 to 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Serve gazpacho topped with croutons and a drizzle of olive oil.

Awesome summer corn recipes.

Around here, we’re knee-deep in corn season, and these hot days are producing fat, sweet, juicy ears of summery goodness. Local sweet corn has been amazing, and we’re smart to eat our fill of it while we can. Now, I’m a buttery-corn-on-the-cob girl all day long, but sometimes I want corn in a different way: raw kernels scattered over a plate of sliced tomatoes, say, or quickly sautéed. So here’s a roundup of my favorite summer corn recipes. Get thee to a farmers’ market!

easy food-processor gazpacho | writes4food.com

Mom’s quick gazpacho.

This easy tomato gazpacho recipe is an oldie but goodie—it originates in the recipe booklet that came with my mom’s Cuisinart food processor many years ago. She photocopied the recipe for me, and I make it repeatedly throughout the summer. It’s my go-to gazpacho recipe because it’s so quick to whip up in the food processor—minimal prep required. A cool soup for hot weather!

easy food processor gazpacho

(makes about 4 cups)

1 small clove of garlic, peeled
1/2 jalapeño pepper, seeds removed (or more to taste)
4 green onions, white and pale green parts cut into 1-inch pieces
1 stalk celery, cut into 1-inch pieces
1/2 red bell pepper, seeds removed, cut into quarters
2 tomatoes, seeds removed, cut into quarters
2 cups low-sodium tomato juice (I used tomato broth)
1 medium cucumber
Juice of 1/2 lemon
2 tablespoons really good olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Fit the metal blade into your food processor; add garlic and jalapeño and process until finely chopped. Add the green onion, celery and bell pepper; process to chop. Transfer the vegetables to a bowl. Place the tomatoes in the processor and puree until smooth. Transfer the tomato puree to the bowl, then add tomato juice, lemon juice and olive oil. Peel the cucumber and slice it in quarters lengthwise; remove seeds and slice thinly. Add the cucumber slices to the gazpacho. Season well with salt and pepper to taste. Chill the soup before serving; it's actually better the second day.

homemade spiced cherry tomato jam recipe | writes4food.com

Spiced cherry tomato jam.

Thanks to the onslaught of cherry tomatoes in my backyard garden this summer, which is just now coming into full production, I’ve made this homemade spiced cherry tomato jam twice now. You’re thinking, “tomato jam?” Yes, tomato jam!

It’s fantastic with sharp cheddar on crackers, with goat cheese on crostini or on an over-the-top grilled cheese sandwich.

This tomato jam recipe was inspired by one of my favorite summer pasta sauces, made with golden cherry tomatoes, star anise, clove and fresh herbs. The tomato-anise flavor combination turns out to be a real winner, the warmth of the spice pairing beautifully with the tart-sweet tomato taste. (I also love it in this Roasted Tomato-Fennel Soup recipe.) I scouted tomato jam recipes online and added the herb-spice flavoring to a pretty basic technique to come up with this recipe.

This is a small-batch homemade jam that’s easy to make in about 45 minutes; it doesn’t call for pectin, but rather sugar and heat create the lovely texture. Spoon the jam into small jars and freeze them, or use a water-bath canning process to preserve them for shelf storage. Spiced Tomato Jam makes a lovely hostess or summer birthday gift!

Spiced Cherry Tomato Jam recipe

makes 1 1/2 cups

2 pounds yellow or orange cherry tomatoes, halved
2 cups sugar
4 sprigs basil
2 sprigs thyme
2 sprigs tarragon
2 star anise
4 whole cloves
4 teaspoons red wine vinegar

Combine tomatoes and sugar in a large glass bowl; let sit about 4 hours (or refrigerate overnight). Transfer to a large, wide saucepan add herbs, spices and vinegar. Slowly bring the mixture to a boil, then boil rapidly, occasionally stirring and scraping the bottom of the pan to prevent scorching, until it becomes thick, dark and syrupy, about 35 minutes. (Keep up your stirring at the very end of the process; the jam tends to scorch just as it comes to the proper temperature.) Use a candy or digital thermometer to check temperature; it should reach 220° for soft/jelly set. Alternately, spoon a bit of jam onto a small plate and put it in the freezer for a minute or two; it should resemble a soft-set jam. Use tongs to carefully remove spices and herbs.

Jam keeps, refrigerated, for up to 6 months; can be processed in jars in a water-bath canner per manufacturer’s directions (see FreshPreserving.com for the how-tos on canning). Or transfer to small jars and freeze up to 1 year; thaw completely before using.