Jacques Pépin: Fast Food My Way

Video Recipes:

Pico de gallo (the rooster's beak). A standard at any Mexican restaurant, this spicy accompaniment is made with diced tomato, coarsely chopped onion, chopped jalapeño pepper (the amount determined by your tolerance), a lot of cilantro, a little ground cumin, and a dash of ketchup, which I like to add for texture and taste. This is always a hit when served as a dip with tortilla chips.

Avocado halves in red sauce. Avocadoes are a great favorite of mine, and for a quick first course I often cut them in half, remove the pits with a knife, and, using a large spoon, scoop out the contents from each half. Place an avocado half on each plate, and sprinkle with a little coarse salt or fleur de sel. In a small bowl, mix together a little mayonnaise with ketchup, Tabasco to taste, and a little water until creamy. Spoon on top of or around the avocado halves and sprinkle with some spicy crushed tortilla chips.

Cheese crostini. I serve cheese crostini often as a hors d’oeuvre or salad accompaniment. To make them, I arrange leftover slices of baguette on an oiled cookie sheet and top with plum tomato slices, Gruyère, a dash of salt, and plenty of black pepper. I bake them in a hot oven for 6 to 8 minutes, until nicely browned, sprinkle them with a little chopped cilantro or parsley, and serve.

Ricotta honey mix. For a fast and easy dessert, place a graham cracker on each plate and put a large spoonful or scoop of ricotta on top. Pour a couple of tablespoons of honey on over and around the ricotta and sprinkle on some diced dried apricots and dark raisins. This dessert is better still with the addition of a few drops of Grand Marnier.

Pineapple slices in kirsch with sherbet. A pineapple slice flavored with kirshwasser (cherry brandy) is a classic combination from my years in the great kitchens of Paris. Arrange a fresh or canned pineapple slice with some of the syrup or a sprinkling of sugar on each dessert plate, and pour a little kirsh on top. Place a small scoop of fruit sherbet (lemon, orange, tangerine, strawberry, or raspberry) in the hollow center of each slice. Garnish with mint leaves and serve with a cookie.

Shrimp burgers. I discovered these at Dr. Taco while vacationing at Playa del Carmen in Mexico. Put a couple of slices of manchego or mozzarella cheese in a nonstick skillet and place over moderate heat. As the cheese begins to melt, add a few small raw shrimp or pieces of shrimp, salt, some hot salsa or cracked pepper, and some chopped scallions or chives. Cover and cook over medium heat for a couple of minutes, then slide the cheese-shrimp burger onto half a toasted bun topped with a lettuce leaf and tomato slices.

Pineapple frosties. Ideal for hot summer nights at the beach, these tasty cold drinks are a cinch to make. Emulsify a mixture of canned crushed pineapple in syrup, crushed ice, a little lime juice, and dark rum in a food processor. Spoon into glasses, garnish with mint sprigs, and serve.

Baby mozzarella salad. As a first course, a baby mozzarella salad is great. Make use of the bounty of your supermarket deli counter: small mozzarella balls (boconccini), diced red pimientos, pitted black and green olives, sun-dried tomato halves, and capers, if available. Mix these ingredients with a little extra-virgin olive oil, cracked pepper, and a dash of vinegar and serve cupped in a leaf of radicchio on individual plates.

Red beets in sour cream. For a winter salad, drain a can of sliced red beets and combine the slices with sour cream, cracked pepper, salt, and a dash of red wine vinegar. Serve over endive leaves, with a sprinkling of flat-leaf parsley, tarragon, or basil leaves on top.

Summer salad santé. I make this salad from ingredients directly out of my garden. I pick a bunch each of basil, flat-leaf parsley, and arugula and collect a handful of tarragon leaves and some chives, which I break into pieces. I mix these in a large salad bowl with a little lemon juice, extra virgin olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste. It's excellent with good country bread.

Ham cornucopias. For a first course, roll up individual slices of ham into a cornet or cornucopia shape and place each in a flat-bottomed rocks glass or on a plate on top of baby spinach or watercress. Mix diced feta cheese, pitted black olives, and marinated mushrooms--all from your supermarket deli--with a dash of olive oil, cracked pepper, and salt. Spoon into the ham cornucopias and serve.

Tuna tomatoes. In summer, when good tomatoes are available, mix a drained can of tuna (preferably packed in oil) with some minced scallions, pitted Kalamata olives, diced anchovy fillets, chopped parsley, and cracked pepper. Cut off the tops of ripe tomatoes and hollow them out with a spoon, reserving and lightly crushing the tomato pulp with a fork and mixing it with a little olive oil, salt, and pepper to create a sauce. Fill the hollow tomatoes with the tuna mixture and serve with some of the sauce for a first course.

Prosciutto and figs. I like prosciutto sliced very thin. Cut one fresh fig in half and wrap one or two slices of prosciutto around each half, so the flesh of the fig is exposed. Sprinkle black pepper on top and serve with a fresh baguette and a dollop of mascarpone for a treat as good as you will ever get in Italy.

Smoked whitefish tartine. Gloria loves smoked fish, and I often make this dish for her as a first course. I cover a large piece of pumpernickel or multigrain bread with whipped cream cheese, place pieces of smoked whitefish or trout on top, and sprinkle on some cracked pepper and a few pitted black olives. I serve this open-faced sandwich on a bed of watercress or baby spinach with a dash of olive oil on top.

Basil, cheese, fig, and nut bites. A plate of basil, nut meats, and cheese makes for a good light lunch or cheese course at a fancy dinner party. I place a few roasted nuts--pecans, walnuts, or almonds--in the center of each of several large basil leaves and serve two per plate, with a slice of ripe Camembert or Brie and a dried fig cut in half.

Lavash pizza. You can make homemade pizza in no time at all using flour tortillas, pita bread, or--my favorite--lavash. After oiling a cookie sheet, I press one of these large flatbread rectangles on the sheet, then turn it over, so it is lightly oiled on both sides. Cover it with sliced tomatoes, some grated mozzarella and Parmesan, cracked pepper, anchovies (optional), and a few dashes of olive oil. Bake in a 425-degree oven for 8 to 10 minutes, then sprinkle with lots of basil leaves torn into coarse pieces.

Apricot sherbet. For a quick dessert, puree a can of apricot halves in heavy syrup in a blender for about 30 seconds to infuse the mixture with air. Transfer the puree to a glass baking dish so it forms a fairly thin layer that will cool quickly, and place in the freezer until semisoft. (If making the sherbet ahead, freeze the puree until solid, and then, several hours before serving, soften it in the refrigerator until you can scoop it out of the dish. For a creamier result, process for a few seconds in a food processor.) Spoon into cold glasses, top with pistachio nuts, and serve each dessert with a cookie.

Guava delicioso. My wife loves guava, so I serve this simple dessert of little chunks of canned guava paste on Ritz crackers with a dollop of cream cheese on top. To finish, I push a basil leaf into the cream cheese and sprinkle it with a few pistachio nuts.

Sweet potato chowder. For this easy, delicious soup, pulse cooked fresh or canned plain sweet potatoes (not in sweet syrup) in a food processor with chicken stock and salt and pepper to taste until the consistency is to your liking. Add some heavy cream and bring the soup to a boil in a saucepan. Spoon into bowls and top each serving with oven-roasted pumpkin seeds and a sprig of dill.

Blueberries in raspberry sauce with ice cream. Any berries are great for a summertime dessert. Mix some blueberries in a bowl with raspberry jam and a little cognac or water. Spoon into cocktail glasses, top each with a small scoop of vanilla ice cream, and serve with a cookie.

Peasant soup. For this soup like one my mother used to make, prepare croutons by baking slices of leftover bread in a conventional oven or toaster oven until brown and crisp. Divide the toasted bread among soup bowls, breaking the slices into pieces if they are too large, and grate a generous amount of Gruyère or Jarlsberg on top. Bring a good homemade chicken stock or canned broth to a boil and pour over the croutons and cheese in the bowls. Sprinkle with cracked pepper and a few chopped chives and serve.

Cannellini and chorizo soup. I always have the ingredients for this fast, satisfying soup in my pantry and refrigerator. Puree a can of cannellini beans in a blender with enough chicken stock to make a creamy soup. Transfer to a saucepan, add diced chorizo sausage, bring to a boil, sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste, and finish with a little heavy cream. Garnish with chopped chives and croutons.

Sardine rolls. Occasionally I make sardine rolls for serving as a first course. I moisten rice paper rounds (available in most markets) to soften them, and place two or three canned sardines on each paper, along with some chopped red onion, a strip of pimiento, ground black pepper, and a dash of red wine vinegar. I then roll the papers up tightly and serve two rolls per person on a bed of mesclun salad.

Smoked salmon plate. Smoked salmon (Scottish or Irish is best) is available in most markets. For an elegant first course, arrange two or three slices (depending on size) of good smoked salmon on individual plates. Sprinkle some chopped red onion or scallions, a few capers, and, if you like, some diced cucumber on top. Finish with a few dashes of extra-virgin olive oil, and serve with a lemon wedge, a few sprigs of dill of fennel, and buttered black bread.

Cold black bean soup. When friends drop by in the summer, I like to make cold soup. One combination that I love is made in a food processor. Puree a can of black bean soup with a little olive oil, Tabasco, a couple of tablespoons of chopped onion, a crushed clove of garlic, salt, and enough chicken stock to make the mixture creamy. Serve in soup plates, topping each serving with a ribbon of sour cream diluted with a bit of water and garnish with a few slices of banana and a couple of cilantro leaves.

Quesadillas. I love quesadillas and often make them as an hors d’oeuvre. I sprinkle some grated American, manchego, or Monterey Jack cheese on a couple of flour tortillas, add some cilantro and hot salsa or Tabasco to taste, and fold the tortillas in half. Then I cook them in a dash of canola oil in a nonstick pan for a couple of minutes on each side, let rest for a few minutes, cut them into wedges, and serve.

Recipe courtesy of Houghton Mifflin Company, ©2004 Jacques Pépin from Jacques Pépin: Fast Food My Way.