Swimming with Fishes: An Easy Pan Sauteed Salmon and a Mediterranean Salad

I don't know why I hadn't made salmon this way before, but it's my go-to now! And the Greek salad isn't too shabby either.

I don’t know why I hadn’t made salmon this way before, but it’s my go-to now! And the Greek salad isn’t too shabby either.

Where does the week go? Our lives are so busy and full these days, no matter what endeavors and challenges are part of your day to day world. Some days we just need to be able to make something quick and delicious for dinner. This fits that bill.

All of the recent fish posts and recommendations to add more of it to your diet (the Mediterranean diet most recently), have caused me to develop a relentless craving for fish. We don’t have the sources for fresh and reasonably priced fish that we should in our city, but we do seem to always have fresh salmon available, and sometimes at an excellent price. This was the case this week and I wanted to try a simple preparation.

Enter Jacques Pépin and Julia Child’s fantastic cookbook, Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home, perhaps my most beloved and referred to cookbook of all time. Jacques’ singularly simple and quick preparation for salmon caught my eye, and it features just a few ingredients, some that I always have on hand. Of course best of all, it produces a truly spectacular and tasty end result…a crispy skinned fish, lightly seasoned, perfectly cooked and lovingly flavored with a little butter, lemon, onion and capers. I paired this with a Greek salad tossed with my homemade Mediterranean dressing/marinade and some rosemary roasted potatoes. Then I made it again with just the salad for a side because the fish is so rich. Either way, it’s perfect for a quick weeknight meal, for company, or for any night at all.

Perfectly cooked with a very crispy skin and rich, fresh flavor!

Perfectly cooked with a very crispy skin and rich, fresh flavor!

Pan Cooked Salmon (or try this with another fish of your choice)
As slightly adapted from Jacques Pépin’s original recipe
Makes 2 servings

2 – 6 oz. fillets of sustainable fresh salmon, skin on and scaled
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 1/2 tablespoons of unsalted butter
3/4 cup red onion, halved and thinly sliced
1 1/2 tablespoons of capers, drained
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Optional fresh flat leaf parsley to garnish, if desired

Sprinkle both sides of the fish with a small amount of kosher salt and some freshly ground black pepper. (Note: At this point, I would suggest turning on the fan over your stove unless you wish your house to smell of salmon for the next day…not that that’s a terrible thing.) Heat a non-stick skillet over high heat until it is quite hot. Put the salmon into the very hot, dry pan, skin side down. The heat will immediately crisp and shrink the salmon skin, and release it from the pan. Reduce the heat to medium high and cover, allowing the salmon to cook until it is just done and a knife inserted into the top will flake off the meat, but the fish is just barely cooked through inside, about 7 minutes depending on the thickness of the fillet. Remove the fish from the pan with a long spatula and place it on the serving plates skin side up.

Wipe the pan out with a paper towel and return it to the stove top with medium low heat. Add the butter and the onions, and cook the onions for about 2 minutes. Add the capers and sauté for about 30 seconds, then swirl the lemon juice in and heat it through for just a few seconds. Pour the sizzling sauce over the top of the salmon fillets, dividing equally. Sprinkle with a little parsley for more color, if desired, and serve immediately with your favorite salad or side.

Betsy’s Easy Mediterranean Salad Dressing/Marinade
Makes a generous 1/2 cup, can be doubled

1 garlic clove, peeled and minced
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh oregano, finely chopped
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Place all ingredients into a 1 cup mason jar. Screw on lid and shake vigorously. Use this to lightly dress a Greek salad (red onion, kalamata olives, tomato, cucumber and feta) or a green salad, or use for a marinade for pork, fish or chicken.

Cupboard Cobbling: Baked Rainbow Chard, Bacon and Parmesan Sandwich

Pan 'O Sandwich.

Pan ‘O Sandwich.

Prior to dashing out of town at the end of last week, (and hence having been a bit quiet here lately) I found myself faced with the need to make a quick dinner with what I had on hand. This consisted of an abundance of the aforementioned chard in the garden, some tasty and local Pine Street Market bacon in the freezer and some leftover Italian Pane Bello bread, along with a bit of good Parmesan cheese in the fridge. Hmm. What can I cobble together?

Then I remembered a lovely baked sandwich my mom used to make when I was a kid. It had an eggy custard poured over it and had to sit over night before being baked. Also it seemed like there was a sauce. Well, I didn’t have overnight to wait, nor did I have the time or inclination for a sauce, but what the heck? I decided to experiment and the result was really good, so there ya go!

And actually, this was an interesting way to use chard in a one dish kind of meal and is similar to its close cousin the savory meat and vegetarian bread puddings which I’ve previously posted here, and here. But this one is definitely a sandwich…and it seems to invite endless experimentation and variations. Do you like yours more moist and custardy? Add more eggs and milk. Want to use a more melty cheese and some leftover ham or chicken? By all means. How about an all vegetarian version with spinach, mushrooms and the like? Why not! Endless possibilities.

This one is my starting point and we enjoyed it for two meals. I hope you will, too!

Baked Rainbow Chard, Bacon and Parmesan Sandwich
Serves 4

6 to 8 large slices of firm and hearty bread such as Italian Pane Bello
5 slices of thick cut good quality bacon
1 large bunch of Rainbow Chard (about 6 oz.) stemmed and chopped into bite sized pieces
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced
1 teaspoon of olive oil (if needed)
pinch of kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper for the veggies
3 large eggs
1 cup of milk
2/3 cup of freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, divided
1/8 teaspoon of ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon of kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter or lightly grease a 7 x 11 inch casserole dish. Place half of the bread slices in the bottom of the dish in a single layer, cutting them to fit the dimensions of the dish. Cut the remaining pieces of bread to make a similar top layer, and set aside for later assembly.

In a large skillet, cook the bacon over medium heat until it is done and crispy, remove from the pan and allow it to drain on paper towels, reserving up to 1 tablespoon of the bacon fat in the pan. If you don’t have 1 tablespoon of fat left  from the bacon, add the olive oil to the pan to make a total of 1 tablespoon of fat/oil. Heat the fat over medium heat and add the garlic. Saute for 1 minute, then add the chard with a pinch of salt and pepper. Saute the chard until it is just tender, about 5-8 minutes, and remove it from the heat.

In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk, 1/3 cup of the Parmesan cheese, the nutmeg, salt and pepper until well blended. Ladle 1/2 of the custard mixture over the bread layer in the casserole dish. Spread the cooked chard mixture evenly over the first layer of bread in the casserole dish. Crumble the bacon and sprinkle evenly over the top of the chard.

Dip the remaining pieces of bread into the remaining custard mixture in the bowl and place them on top of the chard and bacon in an even layer. Pour the remaining custard evenly over the top layer of bread. Sprinkle the bread with the remaining 1/3 cup of Parmesan.

Bake the sandwich for 35 to 45 minutes, until the custard is set, the cheese is melted and the top of the bread is lightly browned. Cut into four equal portions and serve.

Chard from the garden.

Chard from the garden.

breadinpanBread fitted into the pan.

baconCrisped bacon at rest.

chardgarlicinpanChard and garlic sauté.

breadwithcustard

First layer of bread with custard…

chardlayered

Then the chard layer…

baconlayered

Then the bacon…mmmmm…

readyforoven

Topped with another layer of bread, custard and Parm, and into the oven it goes…and then into my mouth!

Soup’s On! Easy Roasted Mediterranean Vegetable Soup

Mmmm, mmm, good! I don’t know about you, but a bowl of soup and some good bread always says “come hither” to me.

Feeling a little pressed for time lately? I know I feel this way a lot, and when I do, it’s hard to face cooking a big meal at night. I try to make some foods on the weekend that will carry us through a few hectic weekdays. But sometimes the weekends are hectic, too, and you find yourself facing that ever challenging dinner question: What to make?

This week, it was veggies to the rescue! Roasting vegetables is truly a wonderful way to enjoy them, and an easy way to cook them. It amplifies their natural flavor and caramelizes all the sugars, which makes them even tastier than most other simple preparations. Once roasted, you can eat them “as is,” add them to eggs to make a frittata, use them as a side dish to your favorite meat, toss them with some pasta or rice for a vegetarian main dish, or put them on top of salad greens with a light vinaigrette.

Or, as I decided to do the other night, you can make them into an easy, delicious and immensely satisfying vegetable soup, which will be all the better because of the depth of flavor from the roasting. Soup is definitely my go-to meal in the cooler months and I never get tired of it. And with a roasted veggie soup, there are so many vegetables to choose from to make this soup your own. You can mix and match as you please, but as a very general starting point, most root vegetables like potatoes, sweet potatoes, onions, carrots, parsnips, beets, etc. play well together, and the lighter, vine-ripened vegetables like tomatoes, squashes, peppers and eggplant are good partners.

For this soup—a great way to use up vegetables by the way—I chose some vine-ripened veggies which are still available locally grown, and added some Mediterranean flavors. I already had two slicing tomatoes left over from a CSA box, and some cherry tomatoes and lots of fresh herbs from my garden. I found yellow summer squash, zucchini and sweet bell peppers in the market, and I always have garlic and onions on hand. All I had to do was a tiny bit of prep and then throw the lot into a roasting pan, sprinkle on some olive oil, salt, pepper and fresh rosemary, and roast the veg in the oven. When the veggies were ready, I transferred the contents of my pan into a stock pot, added some chicken broth, water, fresh herbs and seasoning, and cooked that for a little while until the flavors infused the broth. Then out came the stick blender and I pureed the whole thing in the pot to blend all that goodness together, and hurrah! I had an amazing, delicious soup, filled with roasted flavor and savory goodness. A soup I think even a kid could love, especially because they need never know what veggies are actually in it!

Easy, yes? And it made enough to have for several nights, to boot. Perfection.

In fact this simple, healthy and quite low calorie soup was so good, it’s got me thinking about making more easy roasted veggie soups and dishes to share with you this fall, so stay tuned…this may quickly become a series!

If you like the idea of roasting vegetables and soup, I hope you’ll give this one a try, or maybe a version with your own favorite veggie mix. After all, I haven’t even mentioned roasted broccoli or cauliflower, but that may be next up! For yet another easy roasted soup, check out my Asian-Inspired Butternut Squash Soup, too. Add some crusty bread or corn muffins and a little salad, and dinner is…on!

I’d like to take a moment to give a little shout out to blog friend Tanya of Chica Andaluza, whose last two posts provided some inspiration for this post (I love when that happens), turning my thoughts to roasting the veggies to make this soup. And on another note, my Facebook page is soooo lonely out there…it’s kind of sad. If you haven’t yet, please join me there for more shared food, photos, tidbits and good links by clicking this link or the one on the home page of this blog and “like” me!

Easy Roasted Mediterranean Vegetable Soup
Makes 8 servings

2 medium tomatoes, core removed and cut into large chunks
2 cups cherry tomatoes, or 1 pint
3 medium yellow squash, cut into 1/4 inch slices
2 medium to large zucchini, cut into 1/4 inch slices
2 large sweet onions, peeled and cut into large chunks
1 large red bell pepper and 1 large orange bell pepper (or two sweet bell peppers)
10 cloves of fresh garlic, peeled and left whole
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 cup olive oil, preferable extra virgin
2 Tablespoons fresh rosemary, chopped (or 1 Tablespoon dried, crumbled)
6 cups low sodium chicken broth (or homemade)
2 1/2 cups water
1 Tablespoon chopped fresh basil (or 1 teaspoon dried and crumbled)
1 Tablespoon chopped fresh oregano (or 1 teaspoon, dried and crumbled)
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt and 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, and more to taste if needed when the soup is finished.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Place all of the prepared vegetables (tomatoes, through peppers) and the garlic into either a deep non-stick roasting pan or a cookie sheet with sides that has been covered in aluminum foil. Pour the olive oil over the vegetables and toss to coat. Add 1/4 teaspoon black pepper, 1/2 teaspoon salt and the rosemary to the vegetables and toss again. Roast the vegetables in the oven for about 40-45 minutes, stirring every 10-15 minutes, until the cherry tomatoes have burst and the veggies are tender and just beginning to color. Remove from the oven.

Pour the vegetables and their juices into a large stock or soup pot. Add the chicken broth, water, basil, oregano, remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper, and bring to a simmer over medium high heat, then reduce the heat to low and continue to simmer for about 15-20 minutes. Remove the soup from the heat and puree the soup carefully in the pot with a stick blender, or in batches in a regular blender, returning the soup to the pot once pureed. Place the soup back on the heat just long enough to heat it through, and taste for seasonings. Serve with crusty bread.

The soup is such a beautiful color from all the veggies and I love the little flecks of herbs and pepper.

This, that and the other…

Smiling eggs make better brownies.

I could get with this…or I could get with that… (You’re envisioning the Kia Soul Hamster Rap commercial, aren’t you?) Basically, this sums up my thoughts on my pantry and fridge contents last night as I faced making dinner. We’re finally getting some rain here, and I was happy to stay in and make a meal. But, what to make? I had no real plan, and I had bits of this and bits of that for ingredients. When in doubt, make a salad and some pasta! Continue reading