Archive for the ‘Vegetables’ Category

Mashed potato latkes

November 30, 2013

Every year when Hanukkah comes around, I pick a night to make latkes and a brisket. And every year, I swear I will not only make latkes for Hanukkah.

Similarly, a lot of people go crazy about selecting, preparing and serving a turkey for Thanksgiving and never think about it again the rest of the year.

This year, with Thanksgiving falling on the first day of the Feast of Lights, I was concerned about when I might make my latkes. Even with a scaled back crowd attending dinner this year, I knew realistically we wouldn’t be done with the leftovers until at least half-way through Hanukkah.

The first night after Thanksgiving, we finished up the leftover ravioli and sauce and meatballs and sausage. On Saturday night, we set our sights on some turkey, the end of the dressing, green beans, cranberry sauce and mashed potatoes.


Why not repurpose those leftover mashed potatoes into latkes. I could still spoon some of the gravy over them. Or top them with cranberry sauce.  Of course a dollop of sour cream is always nice.

What a great idea! And so easy to do.  They turned out great! Crisp exterior with a fluffy interior. 

The convergence of Thanksgiving and Hanukkah that occurred this year won’t happen again for 70,000 years.

Don’t wait that long to try this recipe. mplatkes

Mashed Potato Latkes

  •          Leftover mashed potatoes (approximately 2 cups) at room temperature
  •          1 large egg
  •          ½ to 1 cup of all-purpose flour
  •          Vegetable oil

In a large bowl, sprinkle about ¼ cup of the flour over the potatoes.  Add the egg and work into the flour and potatoes. Add just enough additional flour to form a cohesive dough that is just stiff enough to be workable. Don’t overdo it.

Pour oil into a 10 or 12 inch skillet (cast iron is perfect for this) to a depth of about ½ an inch. Heat the oil over a medium flame until it sizzles when a small piece of the dough is dropped into it. (About 7 minutes).

Grease a ¼ cup measuring cup with Pam or a similar spray oil. Fill with the dough mixture and drop into the hot oil. Flatten the dough slightly with a spoon. Do this three more times. Do not overcrowd the pan.  Cook until browned, four to five minutes, flip and cook for another four or five minutes.

Remove the latkes from the skillet and set on paper towel lined platter to drain. Cover to keep them warm. You may want to lightly salt and pepper them to taste. Repeat until you have used up the dough.  Serve warm with sour cream and applesauce (or the Thanksgiving leftovers).

Makes 8 – 10 potato pancakes.


Mushrooms and Peppers

August 23, 2012

One summer night we were dining at the late, lamented Cesare’s Cafe here in Trenton.

We’d placed our order and were relaxing with our drinks and enjoying small talk when, out of the kitchen, came Cesare himself. He was carrying a sizzling platter of sauteed mushrooms and hot peppers. “From the garden!” He said, as he placed the platter on our table.

Every table in the dining room got one of those platters that night. That’s the way Cesare was. It was that touch of “home.” Like having dinner at your grandparents house in the ‘Burg. It’s what made the place a favorite and why we miss is it so.

I’m a huge fan of mushrooms. And peppers. Especially hot peppers. The idea of cooking them up together is not foreign to me. They make a nice side/topping for a sizzling steak or some roasted chicken.

Served on their own, with some bread for dipping into the flavor infused olive oil….! What better way to start a meal?

Cesare’s, unfortunately, is long gone. You can find this dish on the menu at Rossi‘s…perhaps the “old ‘Burg’s” remaining hold out.

Or you can make it at home.

Right now, while the local peppers are in abundance in backyard gardens and farmers’ markets, is the time to do it.

So simple. So good.

Mushrooms and Peppers

  • 10 ounce package of fresh mushrooms, preferably brown (crimini, baby bellas) but white will do. Wipe them clean but leave whole, only removing the hardest ends of the stems.
  • 4 to 8 fresh, locally grown hot peppers (pick your favorite or go with what is available from your garden or the market), cut into 1 inch pieces or left whole; stemmed; seeded if you want/need to control the heat.
  • 4 cloves of garlic. Three peeled and whole, one peeled and minced.
  • 1/2 cup olive oil plus more for “drizzling” if needed
  • salt
  • pepper
  • several slices of good bread for dipping and sopping.

In a 10 inch skillet, warm the 1/2 cup of olive oil and whole cloves of garlic over medium/medium-high heat. Let the garlic color (and flavor the oil) but do not let it burn!  (about 5 minutes)

Remove the garlic and add the peppers. If the peppers are of medium to thin walled (banana or cayenne types), cook for two minutes. If thicker, cook just until they start to color and soften.

Add the minced garlic.

Add the mushrooms and stir. Sprinkle lightly with salt and some fresh cracked pepper. Stir to mix well.

Cook until mushrooms and peppers have softened but don’t let them become mush (3 to 4 minutes). Stir as needed.

Remove from heat, place in platter to serve. Drizzle with a little more olive oil if needed.

Serve with bread for sopping.

Serves 2 as an appetizer, 1 as a light lunch.

Grilled Eggplant Parmesan

August 22, 2010

I’ve always loved eggplant parmesan. It wasn’t something we had at home so I would take advantage of just about every opportunity to have it. It was often my choice if I was grabbing dinner at a diner; and an eggplant parm sandwich always made for a good lunch.

One of our longtime neighbors made an excellent version of eggplant parmesan. She knew how much my father and I enjoyed the dish and would often send some over for us.

I remember one particular night when she had sent some over. We were getting ready to open a video store. Jeff, the sales rep from the tape supplier had come down from New York to meet with us and work up the initial order of videos. The process of choosing stretched into the early hours of the morning. At one point, we stopped to refresh ourselves and we offered the sales rep some of the eggplant parm. You would have thought he hadn’t eaten in his life. He loved it, couldn’t stop raving about it, and ended up eating all that we had on hand.  I can never think about the dish without thinking about Jeff asking if we had any more.

Grilled eggplant parmesan

Anyway…as much as I love eggplant parmesan I have never been keen on the involved process of making it. And let’s face it, frying breaded slices of eggplant and then layering them with tomato sauce and tons of cheese isn’t going to produce the healthiest of dishes.

Since I’m so fond of just simply grilling eggplant, I figured you could make a decent eggplant parmesan that way. Last summer, I came up with a version replacing the breaded and fried eggplant with grilled slices. While I was at it, I decided to grill some tomatoes and use them to make the sauce. (Yeah, I know. I simplify by NOT frying the eggplant, and then I add a step by having to roast the tomatoes).

Anyway, the result is pretty good. Try it.

Grilled Eggplant Parmesan

  • Two large eggplants (about 1# each)
  • Olive oil
  • ½ – ¾  pound of mozzarella cheese
  • Fire-roasted tomato sauce (see below)

Wash and peel eggplant. Slice into ½” thick rounds

Lightly brush with olive oil and grill over medium-high heat until tender and nicely browned (about 10 minutes) turning over after about 5 or 6 minutes.

Remove from grill.

Spray baking dish or foil pan with oil, add a little fire-roasted tomato sauce to bottom of pan and layer slices of eggplant, fresh mozzarella, and sauce, alternating until eggplant is used up and dish is full. Make sure to end with sauce.

Bake over grill or in oven until bubbly and cheese has melted. (30 – 45 minutes at 375 degrees)

Fire-roasted tomato sauce

  • 5 pounds of ripe plum-type (Roma, San Marzano, etc.) tomatoes
  • Olive oil
  • Basil,
  • Garlic
  • Salt, pepper, other herbs to taste

Slice tomatoes in half long ways and toss with olive oil. Grill, cut side down, for about 8 minutes over medium high heat. Turn over and grill until skin starts to blister. Remove from grill and set aside until cool enough to handle. Remove skins from tomatoes, chop, retaining juices. Add minced fresh basil, chopped garlic and anything else you’d use for your normal tomato sauce.  I like to keep this sauce kind of chunky, but you can run it through your food processor or use an immersion blender to make a smoother version.

The siren of the nightshade family

August 12, 2010

Grilled eggplant slices

I couldn’t resist the piles of eggplants mounded up in front of all the vendor stalls at the Trenton Farmers’ Market this morning.  Although they weren’t on the “shopping list” I knew I wasn’t going home without one.

Low in calories, high in dietary fiber and containing a decent amount of vitamins, eggplants are common in Mediterranean and Asian cuisines.  Too often, they are integrated and decorated with too many other ingredients that mask the character of the fruit (botanically, actually a berry).   I like it prepared all kinds of ways; as the featured performer in a dish or part of the background chorus in a recipe.

Once lunch time rolled around, I knew what I was going to do with the big purple-black beauty sitting on the counter.  Grill it!


I sliced my eggplant about ½ inch thick…leaving the skin on makes the slices easier to handle.  Seasoned and oiled the slices and then grilled them.  The skin will show some char, the top and bottom surfaces will show grill marks and be a little crispy, while the flesh in the middle will be soft, almost custardy.  The eggplant will have taken on the flavors of the oil and whatever seasonings you apply.

Serve the slices solo or as an accompaniment. 

Grilled Eggplant

  • 1 large, fresh eggplant.
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • Salt
  • Balsamic vinegar (optional)

Get a grill preheating to medium high heat.

Cut the very ends off of the eggplant.

Cut crosswise in ½ inch thick slices.

Salt both sides of each slice lightly. (I used a specialty salt that is mixed with pieces of dried chili from Chilli Peppers, a restaurant in Kill Devil Hills, NC)

Brush with some olive oil, again on both sides. Be careful to not brush off the salt and any seasonings.

Place slices on preheated grill.  Cook for 5 to 7 minutes per side.  Splash with a bit of balsamic vinegar if desired.  Serve.

Tomato time

August 3, 2010


Tomatoes at the Trenton Farmers Market

Yeah. Summer in Jersey, what are you going to eat?


And you don’t have to go to a whole lot of fuss with them. 

Slice, season, savor.

This past Saturday was a hectic day.

I had some errands in the morning.  Then we ran out to Mainland, PA for lunch with Ann’s family to celebrate my mother-in-law’s birthday.  Back home, take care of the dogs and then I was off to the Thunder game.

By time I got home, I was tired but a little hungry and it was heading towards 10 pm.

What to do?

Then I remembered something I’d heard on the radio earlier in the day.  During a segment on NPR’s weekend edition chef/restaurateur Scott Conant said:

A good tomato raw, with a little bit of salt and a touch of olive oil, is just one of the world’s most simple pleasures…

(to hear Conant’s interview, click here; to read a transcript, click here.)

So that’s what I did.  Sliced a perfectly ripe local tomato, sprinkled on a little sea salt and drizzled on the olive oil. 

Season's best

Light, refreshing and satisfying.

Pasta l’estate

July 29, 2010

Summer pasta

Pasta l'estate

If you know me at all you know that Thursday is pasta night at our house.  It was that way from the time I can remember and it is something I try to carry on.  Of course, growing up it was most often just macaroni in red sauce/gravy with meatballs and sausage.

We’ve certainly expanded the repertoire and, while tomato sauce is always the fall back version, mix it up a bit according to season, whims, etc. 

During the summer, I like nothing more than to take advantage of the bounty of local produce and make a quick sauté of seasonal vegetables to toss with my pasta.  Using a multi-grain version makes it even a little more healthy choice…especially if you go easy on the grated cheese as a topping.


  • 1 pound good quality pasta (I like Barilla’s “Plus” multigrain penne pasta)
  • 2 or 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 3 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 Italian sweet frying pepper*
  • 3 small zucchini*
  • 1 medium eggplant*
  • Optional: 4 or 5 Tbs of chopped fresh herbs from the garden (basil, oregano, flat leaf parsley)
  • Salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, pecorino romano cheese

Bring a large pot of water to a boil.  Throw in a generous pinch of kosher salt. Add pasta to pot and stir.

Heat the oil in a skillet over medium low heat. Add minced garlic and a dash of red pepper flakes.  Let cook but don’t let it burn or it will be bitter.

Remove stem and seeds from pepper, dice and toss into skillet just as the garlic is becoming aromatic. Toss or stir.

Cut off the ends of the zucchini and slice into rounds (if the slices are too big in diameter, cut in half), add to skillet and mix with peppers and garlic.

Stir pasta.

Remove ends of eggplant, partially peel in alternating strips (if desired), cut into a large dice, and add to skillet.  Season vegetables with salt and pepper and then stir/flip/shake to ensure even cooking.

Stir pasta.

When pasta is done, toss a couple of ladles of the cooking water into the skillet and stir.

Drain pasta in colander and return to pot. Add half of the herbs (if using) to the vegetables. Stir. Add vegetables to pasta pot and mix. Add rest of the herbs, drizzle with a bit more olive oil and add some grated pecorino romano cheese.

Serve with red wine (Chianti Classico was our choice), toasted bread rubbed with garlic and olive oil and a tossed salad.

*NOTE: use any combination of seasonal vegetables that suits your taste.

Buon apetito!


November 25, 2009

I couldn’t have been more than 10 or 11 years old when I first tasted Finnochio (“Feh nook” in the inimitable Trenton Italian-American dialect). I wondered what this strange looking, vaguely anise tasting celery was, but I liked it and how we dipped it in olive oil with salt and pepper before eating it.

We were at the home of my Great Aunt Della. Della was one of my paternal grandfather’s sisters and we were at her house for a polenta dinner and the Finnochio was part of the prelude.

Fennel is the familiar herb whose fronds are often used in fish or egg preparations and whose seeds are an integral ingredient in Italian sausage (at least to my palate). Its taste does seem to be one that people either like or don’t with little middle ground. It is reminiscent of black licorice (which I am not a fan) or anise (this I like), but subtler.

The Florence fennel is a cultivar grown to be eaten as a vegetable, raw or cooked. Finnochio is increasingly found in local supermarkets, albeit sometimes mislabeled as “anise.” But the quality of the bulbs found there is often inferior.

Fortunately, fall is the time for local fennel. The best bulbs are fat, heavy for their size and blemish free. The fronds on the stalks should be fresh and verdant.

It’s inexpensive. Ann picked some up recently at $1.25 per bulb. Low in calories, Florence Fennel makes a fairly nutritious and tasty snack.

At table before dinner, a few crunchy slices of fennel bulb dipped in olive oil are a great way to whet the appetite and excite the palate for the meal to come. It’s also good served after a hearty meal of roasted meat.

The sweet, delicately flavored bulb works well with other vegetables. One local vendor includes slices fennel in a fresh fig salad that also includes dried cranberries, sweet potato gnocchi and nuts.

Cooking Finnochio heightens its sweetness and softens the already subtle anise characteristic of its flavor. It’s delicious braised or roasted served as a side dish.

Preparation is simple: Cut off the fronds and tough, fibrous stalks. Cut the hard base off of the bulb. Slice. After rubbing the slices with some olive oil and a splash of balsamic vinegar, you can roast the slices in a 400 degree oven for 15 – 20 minutes until softened and browned. Or you can braise the slices in olive oil or water and butter. Season, sprinkle some grated Parmigiano reggiano over the fennel. 

Or serve it my favorite way…raw slices served with some good quality extra virgin olive oil to which a pinch of kosher salt and some fresh cracked black pepper have been added. Dip the fennel into the seasoned oil and enjoy.