Tuesday visit to Louvre

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Since Martin is spending his spring break here with us, some sightseeing is in order.  We picked a good time to visit the Louvre…late morning on a Tuesday…as there were no lines at the entrance or the ticket machines.

View from inside the south wing of the Louvre... it's nice to peek outside from time to time to get your bearings while wandering through one of the world's largest art museums.
View from inside the south wing of the Louvre… it’s nice to peek outside from time to time to get your bearings while wandering through one of the world’s largest art museums.

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While Martin’s mission on this day was mainly to see the Greek and Roman works in the museum, one would be remiss not to pop in to see “La Joconde” (The Mona Lisa).  I didn’t photograph the world’s most famous portrait to post here… we all know what she looks like.   What you see below is the mob of tourists that one always finds in front of Leonardo Da Vinci’s masterpiece, which is secured behind bullet-proof glass.

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In The Mixed Up Files of Mrs Basil E Frankweiler, a brother and sister run away from home and live secretly in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, hiding from the guards and gathering coins from the fountain for spending money.  Martin and I were just talking about how much we love that book when we turned a corner and found ourselves alone on a grand staircase for just an instant.  Fun to imagine having the Louvre to oneself to explore.

 

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I Went up to 18th arrondissement

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Anna and I went up to the 18th Arrondissement, the Monmartre area, this morning for a baking class offered by Cook’n With Class.  We made croissants, pain au chocolat, pain raisin, and babas au rum.  The recipes are simple so it’s the techniques that must be mastered.  This is the kind of cooking class that I still enjoy…those that teach techniques that are just about impossible to learn from a book.

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 Rolling croissants is very satisfying.  Can’t wait to try it at home.

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 Lovely little pastries just waiting for the oven.

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These raisin buns were to die for.  Funny that I’ve seen them in bakeries over here for years and never bought one, perhaps because they look too sweet. The kicker is that these rolls are “glued” together with vanilla pastry cream and that gives them an amazingly rich flavor….definitely the surprise of the day for me.

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This dough that we learned how to make today is comprised of 80 layers as you can see plainly in these fresh out of the oven pain au chocolats. The chef explained to us that the French like their pastries to be baked until quite dark.  They like the burnt caramel flavor as in Creme Caramel and Creme Brulee.  He said that baking this way signifies that this is something to be eaten right away, not saved for later and reheated.  According to him, Americans eat baked goods that are undercooked, “blond” and that uncooked gluten is hard to digest even for those who are not gluten sensitive.  In other words, no more snacking on raw cookie dough.  Don’t know if all this is fact, just passing along the advice of our french pastry chef friend.

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Anna plating her babas au rhum…. just after she had doused it with a very generous glug-glug of Rum.

No foggy London Town

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No foggy London Town for us last weekend… it was 60 degrees and blue skies!  Looks like London will beat Paris in the race to Spring.   It’s a quick and easy 2 1/2 hour Eurostar train ride from one capital city to the other…Gare du Nord to St. Pancras….thanks to the Channel Tunnel (otherwise known as The Chunnel).  Construction of this undersea link between England and France began in 1988 and was open for business in 1994.  I was surprised to learn that this idea had been around since 1802,  when Albert Mathieu first proposed just such a tunnel.  His vision, however, was one of horse-drawn carriages, oil lamps for illumination and an artificial island mid tunnel for the purpose of changing horses.

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Here’s a little something that has surely saved my life in London countless times.  I wonder how many foreigners had unfortunate run-ins with cars and motorbikes before the city started directing us which way to look before crossing the street.

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We spent most of our weekend in the Notting Hill area where #2 son lives these days.  It can be a bit crowded on Saturday due to the wonderful and popular Portobello Street Market but otherwise a fabulous neighborhood.  We especially enjoyed a wonderful dinner on the outside patio of Portobello Ristorante Pizzaria, 7 Ladbrook Road, (Thanks Janos and Sevgi!)

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On our way to Whole Foods on High Street Kensington (their upstairs food court is a wonderful spot for lunch) we were lucky enough to arrive just in time to help celebrate this company’s return from duty in Iraq.   A bystander informed us that there is a little parade and ceremony for each troop as they make their way home.  Welcome home guys!

Here's a quick glimpse of the french countryside from the window of the Eurostar. We are looking forward to renting a car in a couple of weeks to explore la campagne.
Here’s a quick glimpse of the french countryside from the window of the Eurostar. We are looking forward to renting a car in a couple of weeks to explore la campagne.

Another rainy day in Paris

Another rainy day in Paris.  How does that Billy Joel song go?
It’s a rainy night in Paris, and I’m sitting by the Seine,
It’s a pleasure to be soaking in the European rain,
Now my belly’s full of fancy food and wine,
But in the morning there’ll be hell to pay
Somewhere along the line.
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This is what Anna wanted to do after finishing her schoolwork.  I, on the other hand, just wanted to get out for some fresh air so I grabbed the raincoat and umbrella and set out to wander.  I decided to turn down every small cobble-stoned street that I could find.
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Now here’s one of the magical things about Paris.  I emerged from one on these passageways to this spectacular sight.  I’ve been to Notre Dame many times, climbed the claustrophobic circular stone staircase to stand nose to nose with the gargoyles, but I still find it thrilling to round a corner and come face to face with Our Grand Lady.
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What to do on rainy sunday in Paris

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What to do on a rainy Sunday in Paris?  Well, it’s the first weekend of the month which means that the museums are free.  That also mean that the museums are incredibly crowded….the lines at the Musee D’Orsay were hours long.  Most shops are closed and you can only sit at a cafe drinking chocolat for so long.  That is why we were pleased to encounter this crowd of people right on our very own Rue Bonaparte.  There was an air of excitement and anticipation but no signage to indicate what was going on.  Obviously we just had to stop and watch like everyone else.

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Turns out that this was the Hermes Ready to Wear Fashion Show (Fall 2012 line) and we quite enjoyed watching the models, designers, and special guests arrive.   I especially enjoyed watching the paparazzi, which, by the way, must be a very boring way to make a living 99.9 percent of the time.

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So after a little Internet sleuthing, we found the schedule for the other designers’ shows and set out once more.  This time we were looking for the Yves St Laurent show and all we knew is that it would be at the Jardin Des Plantes in the 5th arrondissement.   It was dusk when we arrived via metro and since we didn’t have an address, we just started circling the perimeter of the park in search of clues.  In case you are wondering how large this park is I have downloaded this lovely map below.

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See…that’s a big park.  We were about 3/4 of the way around, it’s was raining and cold and very dark by this point and we were considering heading back to the station when we the Mercedes and the Jaguars began to arrive.  Then came the camera flashes and the rush of the paparazzi.  We approached the crowd just in time to see Salma Hayak slip into the gates then stood for quite a while to do what Anna was there to do, which is to critique the wonderful dresses, coats, shoes and hair styles of the fashionistas.

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Just as we were about to succumb to the elements and head for home we noticed that the photographers were beginning to chatter and jostle with each other in an even more noticeable fashion.  The next car to pull up to to gate was instantly surrounded and a gentleman (a driver, I think) called Anna and me to step out into the street to watch.
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So here it is, my first and last paparazzi shot. Good thing Katy Perry has blue hair or she might not have been so recognizable from our vantage point.

In the mood for Love!

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Have you heard of the love locks of Paris?  This is how it works…the happy couple puts their initials on a padlock, clips it onto one of two bridges in Paris and throws the key into the Seine as a symbol of their undying love.  This is the Pont des Arts, a nice little pedestrian bridge that connects the 6th arrondisement to  the Palais du Louvre in the 1st.  Supposedly, this is the bridge to which you affix your love lock if you are in a committed relationship.  The other lock-festooned bridge is over by Notre Dame and is apparently designated for those lovers who may not be quite ready for the commitment bridge.  I hear that that “lovers fling” bridge has many more locks on it than this one so we’ll have to check it out.

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This lovely old lock caught my eye because the initials are those of my brother and father, neither of whom, I hope, traveled to Paris in 2009 with a certain LGB.

In the mood for a room with a view!

View to the left...Place St Germain des Pres
View to the left…Place St Germain des Pres

Greetings from Paris!  I’ve decided to hijack my own blog for the next couple of months and use it as a way to keep in touch with friend and family during our sabbatical.  First stop, Paris, where we have rented a delightful little apartment on the left bank.  As much as I love the woodsy views of our home in North Carolina, it’s such a treat to have this beautiful city right on the other side of these charming, floor to ceiling casement windows.

 

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View to the right…Rue Bonaparte

Anna and I left home on leap day… a fitting date to start a journey, wouldn’t you say?  We arrived at Charles de Gaulle airport, stiff legged and foggy brained, as are all who endure the ridiculously small seats of coach class for 8 hours.  We were met at our apartment on Rue Bonaparte by the rental agent, a lovely young american from Maryland, who gave us the keys and a couple of instructions and was off.  Too tired to search for a great lunch spot, we popped in the first cafe we saw and ended up with a somewhat forgettable meal and went straight back for a nap.

Now I hate jet lag as much as anyone and possibly more than most.  But getting my daughter up after a 2 hour snooze was near to impossible.  So, while Anna was comatose on the couch, I ran to the Monoprix to purchase our basic survival items…water, fruit, yogurt, coffee (for me) and chocolate (for her).

It was the promise of pizza that got Anna back on her feet that first evening and we found a wonderful little restaurant Pizzaria Positano (15 rue Cannettes, 6eme).  The pizzas came straight out of the wood fired oven and had that wonderful crunchy yet chewy crust that we love.

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View from bedroom windows

So we are off to a great start!  I’ll try to post a little something each day and possibly add some recipes if I ever get around to cooking again!  Please send us hellos using the comment button below.

In the mood for a Midnight Snack!

All of the recipes in this post were inspired by a lovely little book called Midnight Feasts, by Charmain Ponnuthurai. ( Subtitled An Anthology of Late-night Munchies.)  The author has collected recipes and recollections of midnight snacking from chefs, food writers, and actors, among others.   I’m a bit confused by Gwyneth Paltrow’s contributions to the book, Capon, Grandma’s style, and Chinese Duck(which cooks for 3 hours!)  But I do intend on trying the chocolate cake recommended by HRH The Duchess of York, Sarah Ferguson, although perhaps a bit earlier in the day.  She guarantees that everyone who tries it will ask for the recipe!  I’ll let you know how that turns out.  The three recipes that I have chosen to represent here are all 5 minute affairs because that would be the extent of my dedication to a late night foray into the kitchen.  And, I do believe that these quick fixes are far superior to standing in front of the freezer eating ice cream from the carton.’

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Gillian Anderson’s Peanut Butter and Banana

When I tried these little frozen treats, I got the same slightly guilty feeling that I get when I let myself pinch off a bit of cookie dough.  But it’s just peanut butter and banana…nothing else!  
 
Take a banana and slice it end to end down the middle.  Take some peanut butter, smooth or crunchy, your choice, and lather it down one side of the banana as thick as your taste desires.  Place the other half of the banana on top like a sandwich.  Slice four or five times to create little sandwiches and wrap them in plastic wrap, twisting to close and place the whole lot of them in a plastic container in the freezer.  Then, in the middle of the night, open the freezer, and there you have a surprisingly delicious snack!  
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Goat’s Cheese and Runny Honey on Toast

This snack is based on several recipes in the book that use the grilled cheese concept. I think that I could eat this at absolutely any time day or night.
Heat up a ridged grill pan on your stove top.  Drizzle olive oil onto a thick slice of good crusty bread.  Grill the bread on both sides pressing with a spatula.  Remove the pan from the heat and top bread with slices of goats cheese.  Let sit for a minute or two to let the residual heat melt the cheese then drizzle with a couple of teaspoons of honey and sprinkle with fresh cracked black pepper.  Yum!
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Emergency Cheesecake

Of course it isn’t cheesecake, but it does give you a similar satisfaction.  The crunchy grahams with the sweet/tart and creamy filling and the dollop of sweet fruit preserves.  Fresh fruit or nuts might be a nice addition as well.  This is my version of Rachel Johnson’s Instant Cheesecake.  She suggests a cup of sleepytime herbal tea to accompany.
Take 1/2 cup of plain Greek yogurt and mix in 2-3 teaspoons of light brown sugar and a teaspoon of lemon juice.  Stir well and serve in a small teacup with graham crackers and a bit of your best fruit preserves.  Serves 1
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In the mood for Tomato Tarts!

‘Tis the season…for tomatoes, that is.  So I can’t resist another post on ideas enjoying this season’s bounty. Tomato Tarts…beautiful and delicious.  Make all three and let me know which is your favorite.

 

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Cherry Tomato Tart with Parmesan Crust 

Although the crust in this recipe is from scratch, it’s an easy one, I assure you.  Actually, it took longer to defrost the frozen puff pastry for the two recipes that follow, than it did to whip this one up in the food processor.  The tart shell is adapted from Tarts, by Sarah Banbery, and the filling is mine, inspired by my visit to the Piedmont Triad Farmers Market this week.
Pastry:
1 3/4 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 ounces cold, unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 egg
2 1/2 tablespoons ice water
Filling:
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
5-6 slices provolone cheese
4 cups of cherry tomatoes, mixed colors and sizes, if possible
   large tomatoes cut in half and smaller ones left whole
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 teaspoons olive oil
Cut a piece of parchment paper to fit the bottom of a 10 inch loose-bottomed tart pan.  Set aside.
Place the flour, salt, butter, and Parmesan cheese in a food processor and pulse a few times to combine.  Add the egg and ice water and pulse until dough starts to come together…just a few seconds.  You can add more water…just a teaspoon at a time, if necessary.  Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and form it into a round and roll it out to be about 13 inches.  Carefully lift the dough and place it in the tart pan, gently pressing to fit.  Roll the rolling pin over the pan to neaten the edges and trim the dough.  Place the piece of parchment paper into the tart pan and fill it with pie weights or dried beans.  Put the tart in the refrigerator to chill for at least 15 minutes.  Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
Bake the tart shell for 15 minutes.  Remove the pie weights and the parchment paper and bake shell for another 10 minutes  until the edges are starting to brown and the base has dried out.
While shell is baking, toss the cherry tomatoes with the sugar, salt and pepper, and olive oil.
When the tart shell is ready, remove it from the oven and sprinkle the Parmesan cheese evenly to cover the base.  Place the provolone cheese slices in a single layer over the Parmesan.  Use a slotted spoon to fill the tart with the cherry tomatoes and return to the oven for about 15-20 minutes.  The tart is ready when the crust is golden brown, the cheeses are bubbling and the tomatoes are just barely starting to split their skins.  The tomatoes will not brown.  Let the tart cool for 10 minutes before cutting into wedges.  Serves 6-8
note:  I served this with a drizzle of basil oil. (didn’t have it ready and was about to lose the light for the photos) Just throw about 1/3 cup of olive oil into the blender with a good handful of fresh basil leaves, a healthy pinch of salt and a sprinkle of black pepper and whiz it all together for a few seconds.  Season to taste and spoon a scant teaspoon or so over each serving of the tomato tart.
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Tomato Tart with Caramelized Onions, Olives and Capers

A tomato tart with no cheese…doesn’t need it…don’t be tempted.  The caramelized onions are so sweet and rich and the olive and capers provide the perfect salty bite.  Served with a lovely salad of arugula and herbs and, yes, more tomatoes!  This recipe is adapted from Sunday Suppers at Lucques, by Suzanne Goin.
For tart:
3 tablespoons olive oil
6 cups thinly sliced onions
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 sheet frozen Pepperidge Farm puff pastry
1 large egg yolk
3 medium tomatoes
2 teaspoons salt packed capers, soaked and drained
1/4 cup Nicoise olives, pitted, cut in half
For salad:
1/2 pint cherry tomatoes, cut in half
1 tablespoon finely minced shallot
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1/2 lemon, for juicing
1 bunch arugula, cleaned and dried
1/2 cup flat leaf parsley leaves
1/4 cup small basil leaves
1/4 cup 1/2-inc snipped chives
salt and freshly ground pepper
Heat a large saute pan over high heat.  Add the olive oil, onions, 2 teaspoons of the thyme,  1 teaspoon salt and some pepper.  Cook 10 minutes, stirring often.  Then turn the heat down to medium, add the butter and cook slowly, stirring often with a wooden spoon.  It will take at least another 15 minutes to caramelize the onions.  Stir and scrape the bottom of the pan to help them cook evenly.  They should be a deep golden brown.  Set aside to cool completely before you make the tart.  (This can be done well in advance if you want)
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.  Place the defrosted puff pastry on a parchment lined baking sheet.  Use a paring knife to score a 1/4 inch thick border around the edge of the pastry.  Whisk together the egg yolk and one teaspoon water.  Brush the border with the egg wash.  Spread the caramelized onions evenly within the border.
Core the tomatoes and cut into 1/4 inch rounds.  Place the tomato slices, just touching, but not overlapping, on top of the caramelized onions.  Season the tomatoes with 1/4 teaspoon of salt and a sprinkle of pepper.
Arrange the capers and olives over the tomatoes and onions.  Sprinkle the remaining teaspoon of thyme over the tart.
Just before serving, place the cherry tomatoes and diced shallot in a bowl and season with salt and pepper.  Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and a good squeeze of lemon juice and toss together.  Add the arugula and herbs and toss well.  Taste for seasoning.  Serve the salad with wedges of the tart.  Serves 6
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Tomato and Mozzarella Tart

From the clever folks at Cooks Illustrated, here is a brilliant tomato tart that will stay crispy enough to eat out of hand, as demonstrated below by my trusty hand model!  The process of assembling the crust may seem a bit tedious at first but it is really quite simple and the end result is spectacular.
All purpose flour for work surface
1 box Pepperidge Farm puff pastry (defrosted in frig overnight)
1 large egg, beaten
3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 pound Roma tomatoes (3-4 medium)
salt
2 medium garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
ground black pepper
8 ounces low moisture whole milk mozzarella, shredded
2 tablespoons finely shredded fresh basil leaves
  Adjust oven rack to lower middle position and heat oven to 425 degrees.  Dust work surface with flour and unfold both pieces puff pastry and follow these steps to form one large sheet with a border.
1) Brush egg along short edge of one sheet of puff pastry and overlap with second sheet of dough by one inch and press to seal pieces together.
2)  With a rolling pin, smooth out seam.  Dough should measure about 18×9 inches.  Use a pizza wheel or knife (and a ruler) to trim edges straight.
3)  With a pizza wheel or knife, cut a 1-inch strip from the long side of the dough.  Then cut another 1-inch strip from that same side.
4)  Do the same thing on one short side.  Now you should have 1 large rectangle of dough, 2 long, 1-inch wide strips and 2 short, 1-inch wide strips.  Transfer the pieces of dough to a parchment lined baking sheet and brush with egg.
5)  Gently press long strips of dough onto each long edge of dough and brush with egg.  Gently press short strips of dough onto each short edge and brush with egg.
6)  With a pizza wheel or knife, trim the excess dough from the corners.
So now, hopefully, you have a long, rectangular, unbaked tart shell with doubled up edges.  Sprinkle the Parmesan evenly over the shell (inside of the borders) and then using a fork, uniformly and thoroughly poke holes in the base of the shell. Bake 13-15 minutes, then reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees.  Continue to bake until golden brown and crisp, 13-15 minutes longer.  Transfer to wire rack.  Increase oven temperature to 425 degrees.
While the shell bakes, place tomato slices in single layer on double layer of paper towels and sprinkle evenly with 1/2 teaspoon salt.  Let stand 30 minutes.  Place second double layer of paper towels on top of tomatoes and press firmly to dry tomatoes.  Combine garlic, oil, and pinch of salt and pepper in a small bowl and set aside.
Sprinkle mozzarella evenly over warm (or cool if made ahead) baked shell.  Shingle tomato slices on top of cheese (about 4 slices per row)  Brush tomatoes with garlic oil.  Bake until shell is deep golden brown and cheese is melted, 15-17 minutes.  Cool on wire rack 5 minutes,  sprinkle with basil and serve.  (6-8)
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In the mood for Zucchini!

Three reasons to look forward to an abundance of 
garden-fresh zucchini this summer.

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Grilled Zucchini with Parmesan and Basil

Not really a recipe…but probably my favorite way to enjoy in-season, local zucchini.
Wash and trim zucchini and cut into 1/4 inch slices.  I like to cut them on the diagonal in order to create larger slices that will be easier to grill.  Place zucchini slices in a bowl and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice.   Sprinkle with salt and coarse ground black pepper and toss to coat.  Grill over high heat…just 1-2 minutes per side.  I find that by the time I finish getting the zucchini situated on the grill, it is time to turn the first ones.  So while the grilling is labor intensive, it only lasts a few minutes.  Have your serving platter next to the grill so you can place the slices, slightly overlapping, directly on it.  Garnish the zucchini with fresh basil and shaved Parmesan.  (a vegetable peeler works nicely for the Parmesan).  Season with additional salt and pepper if necessary.  Serve hot off the grill or at room temperature.
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Sauteed Zucchini with Red Onion, Dill, and Aged Gouda

(serves 4-6)
This recipe is from Smith and Hawkins’ Gardeners Community Cookbook and is attributed to Joan Holmes, from Westminster, MD.  These flavors work perfectly together and I can make a whole meal of this dish.  I’ve changed the cooking technique just a bit from the original recipe because I like to cook onions slowly, over low heat,  and zucchini quickly, over high heat.  So my way, you get sweet caramelized onions and crisp tender zucchini. 
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1/4 cup olive oil
1 large red onion, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon thinly sliced garlic
6 medium zucchini, sliced 1/4 inch thick
1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
1 1/2 cups grated aged  Gouda cheese
Preheat the broiler.
Heat half of the oil in a large skillet.  Add the onions and garlic and saute over medium low heat until they are soft and just beginning to caramelize.  Remove from pan and set aside.  Add remaining oil to the skillet and raise the heat to high.  Add the zucchini and saute until crisp tender.  Remove from the heat and add the reserved onion mixture, dill, salt, pepper, and Parmesan.  Toss gently to distribute the ingredients then transfer everything to a broiler safe gratin dish.  Sprinkle the Gouda over the top and place under the broiler until the cheese melts and turns slightly golden, about 4 minutes.  Serve right away.
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This next recipe is so light and fresh and wonderful.  Now, I’ll admit, I’ve come late to the eating raw squash camp.  Probably encountered too many raw squashes on tired crudite platters.  But one day, at the Whole Foods salad bar, I discovered that if fresh, sweet, raw squash has a chance to marinate in a tasty vinaigrette for a bit, it turns into a wonderful thing.  That is why I decided to try this recipe from Bon Appetite this Spring and I was not disappointed.  I did not make my own ricotta although I plan to try that soon.

Zucchini Carpaccio with Homemade Ricotta Cheese

    Bon Appétit | April 2010

by Sisi and Wil Carroll
This beautiful side dish looks complicated but is very easy to assemble. If you don’t have time to make your own ricotta, buy high-quality fresh ricotta.

Yield: 10 servings

ingredients

5 medium zucchini, trimmed
Coarse kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 green onions, thinly sliced
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Homemade Ricotta Cheese
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil

preparation

Using knife or V-slicer, cut zucchini into paper-thin rounds. Arrange rounds, slightly overlapping, on large platter. Sprinkle lightly with coarse salt and pepper, then green onions. Whisk lemon juice and oil in small bowl. Drizzle dressing evenly over zucchini. Drop small spoonfuls of cheese all over zucchini. Sprinkle with basil and serve.

Read More http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/printerfriendly/Zucchini-Carpaccio-with-Homemade-Ricotta-Cheese-358198#ixzz0ocjmOoL3

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Zucchini baby!