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Wednesday, August 17

Gapers Block

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It's been a crazy summer full of time commitments and redecorating and sewing and a whole lot of other things that haven't involved cooking. Unfortunately. But that changes this weekend. This weekend I renew my verve for cooking. Actually, I've been slowly renewing it over the past two weeks. And I have something delicious to show for it.

It's been a while since I posted a full meal, and I have the urge to focus on meals instead of dishes for a while. This focus is cyclical and in a few months I'll be bored with meals and instead trying to come up with five great recipes for fennel. But for now, I'm all about the meal. This meal came about solely because I happen to have a parsley plant that more closely resembles a bush and it was taking over my entire herb garden. But what on earth could I do that would use up several large bunches of parsley?

If you're not blessed with a proliferation of parsley in your garden, you should be able to get some pretty cheaply at a farmer's market or grocery store. If you prefer cilantro, it can be substituted in any of these recipes.

The good thing about parsley and cilantro, is that as long as the stalks aren't woody, they're edible, too. The stalks of thyme, basil, oregano and other herbs can often have a bitter flavor that overpowers the green taste of the leaves. But with the cilantro and parsley, all you should have to do is pick out any bad leaves, give it a rinse and a shake, and you can chop, mix or puree the entire plant.

It should be very easy to tell if you have bad parsley or cilantro. You want bright green leaves (they'll be different colors, and parsley tends to look waxier), not yellow or brown. You want them to not be dried or limp and you want to avoid bunches that have leaves that have started to decompose. But otherwise, just about any bunch you find on the supermarket shelf should work. If all you can find are the small plastic containers that weigh more than the herbs they protect, you can still make these dishes with fewer herbs, they just won't be as robust and flavorful.

Tonight's dinner will include a modified panzanella salad, chimichurri potatoes, lemon and parsley shrimp, and for dessert, a blueberry crumble that doesn't require the use of your oven.

Faux Panzanella Salad
6 cups of day-old lightly-crusty white bread that has been torn into bite-sized pieces
3 tablespoons of olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
3 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar
3 tablespoons of olive oil
1 clove of minced garlic
1/2 cup of finely chopped red onion
1 pound of tomatoes (5-6 small, 4 medium, 2-3 large), chopped
4 tablespoons of parsley leaves, chopped
1 cup of fresh mozzarella cut into bite-sized pieces

Place the bread in a bowl and drizzle the oil over top of it. Sprinkle it liberally with salt and pepper. Toss with your hands to combine. You can preheat your oven to about 425° F, spread the bread mixture out onto a baking sheet, and place it in the middle of your oven for about 4-7 minutes, or just until the bread starts to turn toasty. Or you can place a large skillet over high heat and add the bread to it. Shake the skillet frequently or stir to toss the bread pieces for about 10 minutes, or until they're all toasty.

In a separate bowl combine the olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Gently toss the bread, garlic, onion, tomatoes, parsley and mozzarella cheese. Once it is well combined, place it on the counter to sit for about 30 minutes before serving.
Makes 6-8 servings.

Chimichurri Potatoes
Chimichurri sauce is often served in Argentinean restaurants with cuts of steak. But it's great on potatoes, or shrimp, or tomatoes, or bread or, well, a whole lot of stuff. This dish makes enough potatoes to take as a side dish to a large barbecue. Since the sauce will keep for weeks, if you want to reduce the portion size, I'd still suggest making the full amount of sauce and just make fewer potatoes so you can keep the extra sauce for everything else in your refrigerator.

1 cup of fresh parsley (or one large bunch)
4-5 cloves of garlic
1 scallion
1/4 cup of apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon of fresh oregano (or 1 teaspoon of dried oregano)
1/2 teaspoon of ground paprika
1/4 teaspoon of ground black pepper
1 teaspoon of salt (or to taste)
1/4 cup of olive oil
1/4 teaspoon of red chili flakes (optional)
5 pounds of potatoes (save the peels for a bonus recipe at the end)

Pick through the parsley for bad leaves and rinse well to remove any dirt. Shake dry and then add to the bowl of a food processor. Pulse several times to chop up. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add the garlic and the scallion. Pulse several more times and scrape down the sides of the bowl again. Add the remaining ingredients, except for the olive oil. Puree in the processor until you start to get a fairly smooth mixture. Scrape the sides of the bowl frequently so you don't get large pieces in your sauce. Once the sauce seems fairly smooth, turn the food processor on and remove the feed tube or cap so you can slowly pour in the oil to create an emulsion. You should get about 1 cup of sauce. It will last in a tightly sealed jar for several weeks.

Slice the potatoes into 1/2" thick slices and cut the slices into 1/2" cubes. Place the potatoes in a large pot and cover the potatoes by 1 inch with cold water. Place it over medium-high heat, cover, and let it come to a boil. When it does, reduce the heat to low and cook for 2-3 minutes. The potato should pierce easily when stabbed with a fork. Drain the potatoes and rinse with cold water to help them cool. Place them in a large bowl and pour the sauce over the potatoes. Stir gently (your hands will work best) before covering and letting it refrigerate overnight.
Makes 10 servings.

Provence-Inspired Shrimp Cooked in Fennel and Tomato
2 large tomatoes
1 whole fennel
1 clove of crushed garlic (if you smash it, but leave it whole, you'll extract the flavor and be able to remove it from the finished dish)
3-4 tablespoons of chopped parsley
2 tablespoons of olive oil
salt and pepper
1/2 pound of shrimp (20-30 count that have been peeled and deveined)
2 tablespoons of Pernod (anise liquer such as Sambuca, pastis or anisette can be used)

Place a small saucepan of water over high heat and let it boil. Once it does, slice an X in the bottom (non-stem) end of each tomato and place it in the boiling water to cook for one minute. Remove it from the water and use the edge of a knife to peel off the skin. Cut the tomatoes lengthwise and use a spoon to scoop out the seeds. Mince the meat of the tomato. Cut the green ends off the fennel and remove the outermost pieces. (These can be kept for stocks or cooking separately.) Separate the inner white pieces and cut it all into a fine dice. Place a skillet over medium heat and add one tablespoon of the olive oil. Toss in the fennel and cook it for about 10 minutes while stirring constantly. Add the garlic, the tomatoes, and the parsley. Let it cook for about five minutes while stirring frequently. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Add the other tablespoon of olive oil to the skillet and place the shrimp on top of the tomato mixture. Cover with a lid and let the shrimp cook for 2 minutes. Remove the lid and sprinkle the Pernod on top and let it cook for about 1 minute more. You can flame off the alcohol if you wish, or leave it as is.

Serve the shrimp on a pile of the tomato and fennel mixture. You could also make some basmati rice and serve this mixture over the rice for a quick dinner.
Makes two servings.

Unbaked Blueberry Crumble
It's often too-hot to bake a pie during the summer when you don't have air conditioning, but it's easy to toast oats on the stovetop, create a quick-cooked fruit mixture and sprinkle the crumble on top. And it's also great with a dollop of ice cream or even plain yogurt on top.

1 teaspoon of vegetable oil
1/2 cup of rolled oats
3 tablespoons of honey or brown sugar
1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons of finely chopped almonds (optional) 1 pint of blueberries
2 tablespoons of red wine, apple juice, or something similar
1/4 cup of honey or brown sugar
pinch of salt

Place a skillet over medium heat. Add the oil and coat the pan evenly. Sprinkle the oats across the surface of the skillet and stir it constantly for about 5-7 minutes, or until the oats just start to turn toasty. Sprinkle the remaining ingredients overtop and continue cooking, while stirring constantly, for another 3 or so minutes until the scent becomes nutty. Turn off the heat and set this aside.

Place a small saucepan over medium-low heat and add the ingredients. Cover it and let it cook for several minutes. Stir constantly. Once it seems like the blueberries are starting to soften, smash them roughly with the back of a spoon. Pour the blueberry mixture into a bowl and sprinkle with the oat topping before serving with ice cream or yogurt.
Makes 4 servings.

I think one of the best part of this meal, is that each dish is good enough to stand on its own for party-taking or single-focused eating. But the dishes all work well together as a group. And the cooking order makes it easy to have everything ready to go on the table at the same time. The potatoes can be made hours or a day before (they are great cold or warm), the salad rests while the shrimp cook. And the dessert prep is quick so while your dinner settles you've got just enough time to whip up the yummy, warm dessert.

And, because I'm feeling thrifty, I found a great recipe idea for turning potato peel into a great snack.

Potato Peel Chips
potato peels from 5 pounds of potatoes
3 tablespoons of salt
2 tablespoons of olive oil
1 teaspoon of garlic powder
1/4 cup of parmesan cheese (optional)

Preheat your oven to 350° F. Place the potato peels in a large bowl and cover them with cold water. Sprinkle the salt into the water and stir to combine until the salt is dissolved. Let the bowl sit for about 30 minutes before draining off the water and patting the peels dry. Sprinkle them over the bottom of a cookie sheet and place it in the oven for about 10 minutes. Remove it from the oven and sprinkle the remaining ingredients on top, tossing to coat evenly. Spread the peels out on the pan and return it to the oven for another 10 minutes. You now have crispy potato chips. And if you like, you can sprinkle just about any spice on top that you'd like to. These taste okay after they're cooled, but they're best hot from the oven.
Makes about 3 cups of potato peels.

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About the Author(s)

Cinnamon Cooper is an untrained cook. Most of what she's learned has been by accident. The rest has been gained by reading cookbooks, watching The Food Network and by scouring the Internet. Oh, and she also hates following recipes but loves the irony of writing them down for others to follow.

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