Labor Day Feast

On Labor Day, many families will probably cook up hamburgers and hot dogs. But if you want a flavorful meal that is easy to prepare without slaving over a hot grill, Scott Conant, the executive chef at L'Impero restaurant offers a fantastic menu on The Early Show.

It reflects his cooking style: Italian food that is simple to prepare, but full of flavor.

The following are his recipes:

Raw Tuna with Gazpacho Vinaigrette

1 hothouse cucumber, diced small
6 plum tomatoes, blanched, peeled, and diced small
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/3 cup plus 2 teaspoons tomato juice
1/4 red onion, diced small
2 tbsp olive oil
1 chili pepper, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced small
Tabasco sauce to taste
salt and pepper to taste
2 cups of baby greens

Method:
The making of this is a very simple process. Dice the vegetables very small. Mix in a bowl the tomato juice, the red wine vinegar, and olive oil. Season with Tabasco sauce, salt, and pepper to taste.

For the Tuna:
Slice tuna into 1" squares, about 1/4 inch thick.
Lay on the plate with some baby greens and sea salt.

To serve: Spoon the vinaigrette over the fish. Serve chilled.

Grapes braised in Recioto

Ingredients:
1 cup red seedless grapes, washed and halved
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 cup Recioto

Method:
Using medium heat, heat the sugar and the wine in a saucepan. Stir until the sugar dissolves. Add the grapes and cook over medium heat for an additional 7 minutes.
Serve warm.

Mussels with tomatoes and garlic

Ingredients:
1 lb. mussels, washed and beard removed
1/4 cup baby tomatoes
1/2 cup light chicken broth
2 cloves garlic, sliced thin
3 leaves basil
1 tsp chopped parsley
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1/2 loaf bread, grilled or toasted, then sliced
red pepper flakes to taste
salt and pepper to taste

Method:
In a heavy-bottomed pot, warm olive oil until it begins to shimmer. Then add the garlic, and red pepper flakes, and saute over medium-low heat for about two minutes, taking care not to brown the garlic. Add the tomatoes and season with salt. Cook for another minute, then add the cleaned mussels, and the chicken broth. Then cover and cook for 5-7 minutes. Season with the fresh herbs and serve with the bread.

Summer Bean and Goat Cheese Salad

Ingredients:
About 4 ounces soft, fresh goat cheese
1 teaspoon chopped fresh parsley
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
1 teaspoon snipped chives
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/4 cup French lentils (also called European lentils and lentils du Puy)
1/2 cup finely diced potatoes, preferably Peruvian blue potatoes
15 to 20 green beans
15 to 20 yellow wax beans
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon white truffle oil optional
About 3 cups baby greens

Method: In a small bowl, mix together the goat cheese, parsley, thyme, and chives. Season with a little salt and pepper. Divide the herbed cheese into four balls, put them on a small baking pan, drizzle them with about 1 tablespoon of the olive oil and reserve.

In a small saucepan, cover the lentils by about 2 inches with well-salted water. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook the lentils until they are tender, about 20 minutes. Meanwhile, cook the potatoes in the same way in another small saucepan; they should be tender in about 5 minutes. Drain and reserve the lentils and the potatoes separately.

Have ready a large bowl of ice water. Boil the green beans and wax beans in ample salted water until they are just tender. Plunge them into the ice water. Drain the beans, pat them dry, and slice them lengthwise into halves or quarters depending on their thickness.

Combine the red wine vinegar, balsamic vinegar, and the 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil in a small bowl or squeeze bottle. Whisk or shake until emulsified.

About 5 minutes before serving, heat the oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. Heat a large sauté pan over medium-low heat. Add the beans, potatoes, and lentils and just a touch of the vinaigrette and warm everything gently. At the same time, bake the goat cheese for about 5 minutes, just to warm it through.

Just before serving, add the truffle oil to the pan of warm beans, potatoes, and lentils, toss gently, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Divide the bean mixture among four plates. Place the warm goat cheese on top. Toss the baby greens with just enough of the vinaigrette to coat the leaves lightly. Lay the greens on top of the goat cheese and serve immediately.

Extra-virgin Olive Oil Cake
Serves 10

A mild, fruity olive oil is a good choice for this moist, fragrant cake. At the restaurant, we bake small individual-sized cakes. If you have small molds, you can divide the batter among them and begin checking on them for doneness after about 15 minutes.

For the cake:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
Pinch of salt
1 1/2 cups sugar
4 large eggs
1/2 cup orange juice
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Method for the cake:
Heat the oven to 350° F. Spray a 9- or 10-inch cake pan with vegetable oil spray or lightly oil it. Cut a piece of parchment to fit the bottom of the pan and lightly spray or oil it.

In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. In a large bowl, whisk the sugar and eggs until the color lightens somewhat. Add the orange juice and whisk to combine. Add the olive oil and the vanilla extract and whisk again to combine. Add the flour mixture in three additions, mixing well between each one.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake until a toothpick inserted toward the middle of the cake comes out clean, 45 to 50 minutes. Let cool on a rack for about 10 minutes and then invert the cake onto a cooling rack. Wrap in plastic wrap when completely cool. The cake will keep for about two days. It also freezes really well.

Suggested Wine list:

  • Vestini Campagnano 2002 Pallagrello Bianco
  • De Conciliis 2002 Donnaluna Fiano
  • Villa Carafa 2002 Falanghina