Curly Endive Two Ways: Italian Sausage and White Bean Stew and Poached Egg and Bacon Salad! http://www.ladivacucina.com

Darlings!  Do you ever get inspired by ONE food item enough to base a meal around it?  Of course you do, many great cooks rely on a number of sources to inspire what they will be making for dinner.  I rely on my farmer.  When I heard that my farmer friend Margie from Bee Heaven Farms would have escarole at the market, I already knew I would be making my hearty Italian sausage, white bean and escarole stew.



But, when I got to the market, Margie was dismayed to find that the escarole had not been packed!  She DID, however, have loads of divine looking curly endive.  Curly endive is also called frisée and is in the chicory family.  It is a bitter leaf vegetable used mostly for salad.  Since endive is a slightly more bitter green than the escarole, La Diva decided it would be a fine substitute for my dish!  I picked the smallest of the huge bunches on display and went home to start dinner.


La Diva's Italian Sausage and White Bean Stew with Curly Endive!

I had already soaked the white Great Northern beans the night before.  Feel free to use any white bean available including navy or the Italian cannellini!  (What's the difference, you say?  Click HERE to find out!)  I cooked the beans until they were tender and then drained them in a colander, salted and doused them with good quality extra virgin olive oil.



I sliced up four links of spicy Italian sausage and browned them in a bit of olive oil.



Once the sausage was nicely browned, I added a few minced garlic cloves, fresh rosemary and thyme. 



 I deglazed the pan to get all the brown bits off the bottom with some chicken stock and then added the rest of the small can.  I simmered the stew for about a half an hour in order to meld all of the savory flavors.   DON'T add anymore salt and don't allow the broth to boil completely away but allow to SIMMER.  The beans have been salted, there is already seasoning in the sausage and then when the broth reduces, it will be saltier still.  So, please wait until done cooking to adjust any seasonings!



I added washed, chopped endive and mixed thoroughly and cooked until just wilted, only a few minutes more, and then DINNER'S ON, BABY!



La Diva spooned up two hearty servings in shallow bowls and garnished with fresh tomatoes, a quick drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, freshly ground black pepper and a slices of buttered, crusty bread.  The results were delicious and the DJ ate it up!  The greens were only slightly bitter and offered a light crunch to the stew.  This meal is delicious and quick, especially if you use canned beans, and is perfecto for a satisfying week night meal!  (And that picky husband/kid/wife of yours won't even notice the healthy greens in it are really lettuce!)

Darlings, after I made the stew, would you believe I still had half of the greens left?
So, now I had to come up with dish number two...


La Diva's Poached Egg and Bacon Salad with Curly Endive and Lemon Vinaigrette!

It was Easter Sunday and La Diva was enjoying her day off, lounging by the pool bayside and was not at all in the mood to cook a heavy dinner.  We had enjoyed a Good Friday feast with our neighbors that was delicious but like in most cases where there are so many choices, I overate sampling them all!  One couple from the UK fried and battered fish and served with mushy peas, Tere's father made Cuban bacalao with sweet potato and she offered spicy fried shrimp, Monica experimented with a mellowly spicy tilapia and rice curry using Jamaican curry seasonings, and Cori, from Boston, made sliders!  (for all the heathens and sinners and seafood haters!)  It was delicious, but La Diva was not ready or willing to leave the sunshine and the pool to create yet another high calorie feast.   So, I sent the DJ to the store to pick up some bacon to create a simple salad for supper.

I made a quick vinaigrette using my immersion blender:  chopped shallots, extra virgin olive oil, juice from half a lemon, a dash of white wine vinegar and salt and pepper, easy peasy!

I tossed a couple of cubed potatoes into a roasting pan with olive oil, sea salt and rosemary and baked on 450 until they were very brown on the bottom, about 10 minutes.  I turned them over and cooked another 10 minutes til they were lovely and crisp.  Then I let them cool on the stovetop.

In order to get a super crispy, fast and hassle free bacon without the greasy pan, I "nuked" four strips between paper towels on a plate for about five minutes.  When cool, I chopped the bacon and set it aside.  In five minutes I had crunchy, home made bacon bits (and without all of the imitation flavors and chemicals!)


After putting a small pot of water on to boil, I cracked each egg individually into a small bowl, then added a dash of vinegar to the water.  Once boiling, I swirled the water around and then carefully dropped the egg into the pot.  I repeated with the other three eggs and then cooked about three minutes or so until the egg yolks had firmed up slightly.  I carefully removed them to a plate with a slotted spoon while I assembled the salad.  (adding vinegar to the water helps the whites of the egg bind together.)



 I laid the cleaned and chopped endive on large plates and then the potatoes, dressed the salad with the lemon vinaigrette and then seasoned it.  The bacon bits came next and I carefully ladled two eggs on each bed of greens.  A pinch of sea salt and freshly ground pepper was added and I topped it all with a chiffonade of Italian parsley.  Dinner was served!


RESULT:  See above!!!  Obviously, this dish would also make a fabulous brunch dish.  The endive, with it's unique, frilly texture, made the perfect foundation for the eggs and potatoes.  The potatoes were crispy and lemony with the dressing and the bacon added additional crunch and salt!  A savory MORE-ISH dish for a simple supper.

So there you have it, darlings, two ways to try something you might not have had before: curly endive!  Or chicory!  Or frisée (if you feel like being a show off!)  Have you cooked lettuce before in a dish?  What do YOU do an excess of greens?  Tell La Diva ALL about it!  Ciao for now, darlings!

Simple summer salad: heirloom tomatoes and garden fresh herbs http://www.ladivacucina.com

 Darlings!  With a recent Spring snowfall in the Midwest, I know that some of you are not even thinking of putting your first tomato seedlings in the garden, but here in Southern Florida, we are coming to the end of our tomato growing season.  I knew Margie, my farmer friend from Bee Heaven Farms, must be close to the end of her crop and sure enough, I got the last couple of the big heirloom tomatoes at the market.

Aren't they gorgeous?

I grew up being a FRESH TOMATO HATER and no matter how much my dad, mom or aunts would say to me, "How can you not like tomatoes?  They are so sweet, they are like candy!" La Diva could not get past the slimy seeds and gooshy texture.

And then about eight years ago when I just came back to the States directly from my move from Sydney, Australia, I found myself mooching about at my dad's house in Michigan at the end of summer.  I had no job,  no house, no bills and no keys!   DJ Nevah L8 was still in Sydney, tying up loose ends.   The days were hot and long, and it reminded me of when I was a teenager, as that was the last time I had spent any more than a few days in Michigan at my dad's place in the summertime.  I was free and happy to be back living in the States, I was glad to be back "home." 

Dad was living in a suburb that still actually had a few farm houses here and there, and one day, we picked up a bag of fresh tomatoes and sweet corn from the small roadside stand not far from his house.

We came home and my dad immediately sliced the tomatoes up on a plate.  He added salt, freshly ground pepper and doused the lot with beautiful olive oil, covered them and sat them on the counter for a few hours until dinner.

Later, he grilled chicken breasts, steamed plain white rice, plated it and then topped it all with the lovely tomato salad.  He put a plate in front of me and said, "Here, try this," with an expectant look on his face.

Since I never liked raw tomatoes, La Diva was not interested.   But this time, something was different.  I could SMELL their sweetness and the colour was so undeniably attractive and vibrant, oozing juicy freshness, that I HAD to give them a try.  And besides, my dad was standing there waiting and you can't keep Frankie waiting.

Remembering the slimy texture, I tentatively took a bit of chicken and rice on my fork with the tomato to help me get it down.

Surprisingly, it was good.  delicious.   DIVINE!


Refreshing and flavorful, their bright taste was heightened by the olive oil and salt.  And eating them with the rice made the tomatoe's texture more appetizing.  I was hooked.  I went back to the farmstand a few more times to get  bags of my new fave fruit and ate them every day for a week.  It is this salad, with a bit of modification, that has become La Diva's simple summer time favorite.


While these uber-fresh and robust fruits from Farmer Margie could certainly stand on their own, La Diva thought that a visit to the garden was in order, and I knew just what I would harvest:  sweet marjoram, organo, mint, lemon basil (Sweet Dani), lemon thyme, Italian basil and frilly purple basil.

I did a chiffonade of the basil, stripped the leaves from the thyme, oregano and marjoram, and scattered them so each tomato would have a nice, herbal bite.  I drizzled an extra-fruity and grassy extra virgin olive oil over the top, more sea salt and the SIMPLE SUMMERTIME SALAD was complete.  With produce this ripe and fresh, simple dressings using quality ingredients enhance the natural flavors and anything else is superfluous.


RESULT:  Oh come on.  You can't SEE that this looks so freakin' good?  Well, it was, darlings!!  I seared and grilled organic chicken breasts and then topped with more of the fruity olive oil, balsamic vinegar and feta cheese with fresh oregano.  The added greens of curly endive and baby romaine were the perfect foil to the dense chicken.  And La Diva just loves rice with this tomato salad and in all honesty, I could eat this for lunch every day!  (And probably will!)
 
 I know, darlings, I know.  It's time to put the damn snow shovel AWAY and get out the garden spade.  I understand, I do, and Mother Nature just does this to be spiteful!  Soon you too will be reaping the rewards of garden diligence with your own fresh tomatoes.  Or, you can just buy them like La Diva did!  Ciao for now, darlings, and have a LOVELY HOLIDAY.

Orchid Festival at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden

Darlings, sometimes it's nice to take a quiet walk and gather your thoughts.  When La Diva and the DJ have been working hard, with loads on our minds and need some peace and tranquility, we go to a garden.  There we can breathe fresh air, the birds are chirping and the wonders of nature take my mind away from everything except the present.




A few weeks back, we headed over to one of my favorite places in Miami for a bit of calm:  Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden.    To La Diva, it doesn't make any sense to go to a calming garden just to have all the tranquility we recently acquired dashed by the ensuing traffic jam on Old Cutler Road upon leaving the garden, so we rode our bikes to avoid the hassle.



As the garden is quite far from the beach, we put the bikes on a rack on the car and then drive to Dinner Key Marina at Coconut Grove, about five miles away and park.  We then ride through the "Grove" and enjoy the lovely sites en route to the garden on Old Cutler Road.




The bike path is beautiful and green as we leisurely ride under a canopy of huge moss-covered trees and massive banyon trees alongside stunning mansions and stately homes.  As we get closer to the festival, the traffic begins to line up and La Diva and the DJ breeze on by into the entrance.  We lock up our bikes and begin our journey into tranquility.




Orchids were on sale from vendors as far away as from Hawaii and were offering a multitude of varieties including woodland, fragrant and rare flowers.  There were also food vendors and inside there was a competition judged by the Orchid Society.  The displays, including this specimen, were breathtaking.  This one reminded me of some sort of alien bug.




For sustenance, La Diva made a lovely potato and rainbow chard frittata and salad.  Earlier, I had packed it onto my bicycle bag with a cooling ice block and we had a lovely picnic under this tree.  Ahhh........




Starburst



I adore this colour green in a flower (pairs so nice with deep purple!) and have never seen an orchid with a fringe before.




 
The garden is renowned for their research on tropical plants and includes a center for tropical plant conservation.




I'm lucky I have a big, strong guy that enjoys the beauty of flowers like I do.  The DJ quite enjoyed the subject matter and took all of the photos on this day.




I bought a lovely spotted orchid for only $10 and after we strolled around a few hours and ate lunch, we left.  Refreshed and at peace, we cycled back to the car, the orchid bobbing out of my bike pack.  Hardy little creature, it made it back to the car without losing a single petal.



Out of all of the orchids on display and for sale, these were my favorite.  A gorgeous salmon pink, I've never seen an orchid with these delicate hues before.


This post is dedicated to Chickory and Aunty Belle, beautiful flowers for beautiful ladies.  My thoughts are with you both. xo