Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Raspberry Almond Squares

When you see English raspberries or strawberries in June, you really understand the point of seasonal eating.  I wish that I could say that I got these from my own garden, but the first berries are just beginning to ripen on my raspberry canes.  I will confess that I bought these raspberries at M & S, but the sweet, slightly tart, richly perfumed flavor said that they had definitely been recently picked.  And within minutes of taking this picture, I started snacking on them!  In June, I gorge myself on raspberries and skip lunch.

When raspberries are perfect, there is really nothing better than eating them by the fresh handful.  It is the season of summer baked goods, though -- Sports Day, Summer Fete, Mother/Daughter Tennis Tournament -- and I need a sturdy, easy treat that will make a change from the usual brownies and flapjacks.  For several weeks now, I have been tinkering with a recipe that is a version of a blonde brownie.  On Sunday, I made a deliciously gooey batch and five of us "ate the lot" in less than an hour.  I wouldn't necessarily think of serving a glass of icy-cold chablis with something sweet, but in the hot garden, surrounded by blooming roses, it was a truly divine combination.

Yesterday I made another batch for a tennis tournament at my daughter's school, and this time I think I've gotten the proportions just right.  Unlike real brownies, they are just as good -- and deliciously squidgy and moist -- the next day.  Also, they have fruit in them . . . which makes them (nearly) a healthy food, don't you think?

I made the Raspberry Almond Square in my Edge Pan.  This was a Christmas present from my Mom, and we've used it a lot -- especially for brownies and banana bread.  It is nonstick, and helps cook baked goods really evenly . . . no more burnt edges and underdone middles.  I got the inspiration for my recipe from one of the "Edge" recipes, but I would like to think that I've made considerable improvement on the original.

Raspberry Almond Squares
6 oz unsalted butter, softened
2 cups packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp almond extract
1 2/3 cup plain flour
2/3 cup ground almonds
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
grated lemon zest from one large unwaxed lemon
1 cup toasted, flaked almonds*
1 cup fresh raspberries*
** I didn't really measure the raspberries or the almonds, so this is a guesstimate.  Cover the surface of the batter generously is my motto!


Preheat the oven to 350F/170C.  Lightly spray or butter your non-stick pan.

Combine the flour, ground almonds, baking powder and salt in a small bowl.

Using a mixer, cream the butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy.  Add each of the eggs, one at a time, until well-incorporated.  Add the vanilla and almond extracts and lemon zest.  Then add the dry ingredients and beat just until combined.

Spread the batter (it will be quite thick) evenly into the pan.  Cover the batter with a layer of toasted, flaked almonds, and then adorn -- generously -- with fresh raspberries.

Bake for 40-45 minutes, mine needed 45, until the top is golden.  Cool in the pan and then cut into squares.

Note:  although they might not come out of the pan really cleanly, these are deliciously gooey when still warm.  A scoop of vanilla ice alongside would make an easy summer dessert.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Tomato Panzanella Salad

I still remember, vividly, the first time I tasted a cherry tomato.
I was in my great-aunt's backyard in Texas, it was sultriest summer, and there it was . . . ripe for the picking.
More than the taste, I remember the smell and the texture.  How do you describe the smell of a tomato?  There is something peculiarly green about it . . . something immediately recognizable, and yet otherwise indescribable.  I also remember the slightly tough skin giving way, and then the juicy gush.  It made me shudder, in a not entirely pleasurable way.

Although I've always liked tomatoey things (sauce, and salsa, and even ketchup), I've had to cultivate a taste for the raw tomato.  Sometimes they are too mushy; sometimes they are too wet; sometimes (often) they lack flavor.  A few weeks ago, though, I ate the most deliciously tomatoey dish . . . and ever since, I've craved tomatoes. 

A tomato panzanella salad is a classic Italian dish; indeed, I noticed one on Jamie's Italian new summer menu last week.  It contains so many of the classic Italian ingredients (tomatoes, olive oil, basil, mozzarella, ciabatta) -- but how much more sublime they taste when soaked and tossed together.

This version of the dish comes from Vanessa Miller -- a friend of mine who runs her own catering company and teaches cooking classes at Treetops in Newbury, Berkshire.  Although Vanessa made several delicious and imaginative salads during a recent class, this tomato salad was the crowd favorite -- according to my informal straw poll, not to mention the running commentary of mmm's and ah's.  It's a really flavorful twist on the caprese (which can get a little tired), and I know it will be my favorite salad this summer . . . great with grilled meat or as a stand-alone light lunch or supper.

Red and Yellow Cherry Tomato Panzanella Salad with Basil, Olives and Mozzarella

500g red vine cherry tomatoes
500g yellow vine cherry tomatoes
1 garlic clove, cut in half
1 small red onion
30g mini capers
sprigs of basil -- Greek basil if you have it
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp caster sugar
100g Kalamata olives, pitted
250g baby buffalo mozzarella balls
400g plain crusty ciabatta or other coutnry bread, toasted, and cut into cubes
extra virgin olive oil
black pepper
red wine vinegar

Rub the inside of a large mixing bowl with the cut garlic and then add the ciabatta cubes and capers.

Cut the cherry tomatoes in half, reserving all of the juices, and place in the bowl.

Thinly slice the red onion, pit and cut the olives in half, and add both ingredients to the tomatoes.  Mix gently and season with the salt, sugar and pepper.  Add a good glug of olive oil and red wine vinegar.  Leave for about half an hour for the juices to run and be absorbed by the bread.

Before serving, roughly rip the mozzarella balls in half and add to the tomato mixture, gently mixing together.  Place the salad in a serving bowl and sprinkle generously with basil sprigs.

Note: This makes a "company" size bowl of salad.  For my family of four, I would halve this recipe . . . and still have enough left-overs to toss with pasta the next day.  (just remove the bread before you refrigerate)

No tomatoes yet . . . but the plants in my garden are coming along!


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