Roasted Autumn Pears, Honey, Cardamon & Halvah


Serves 6

  • 6 pears (firm but not hard), quartered and seeds removed but stems left on

  • 2 Tbls. honey mixed

  • 1/2 tsp. cardamon mixed with 1 Tbls. sugar

  • 1/4 cup shredded halvah (sesame seed “candy” found in Mediterranean markets)

  • 1/4 cup lightly toasted chopped walnuts, sliced or slivered almonds or pistachios

  • 1 Tbls. toasted sesame seeds (black seeds if possible)

  • 1 cup crème fraîche

  • 1 Tbls. powdered sugar

Place the fruit on a baking dish that is large enough to give them a little room. They should not be squished together. Drizzle with honey and let sit on the counter for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 425°.

Sprinkle with cardamon-sugar mixture and roast the fruit for 10 to 15 minutes or until coked through when pierced with a knife. They should be slightly colored and not mushy.

Whip the crème fraîche and powdered sugar just until soft peeks form.

Divide the cooked pears among individual dishes and spoon remaining juices left in the baking dish over pears.

Place a dollop of crème fraîche on each serving.

Garnish with the shredded halvah, nuts and sesame seeds.

Homemade Crème Fraîche:

Combine 1 cup whipping cream and 2 tablespoons buttermilk in a glass container. Cover with a towel or cheese cloth and let stand at room temperature (about 70°F) from 8 to 24 hours, or until very thick. Stir well before covering and refrigerate up to 10 days.


Makes about 48 small puffs

Gougère are delicious, addictive, crispy, creamy, chewy cheese puffs and best served warm. They are made with a base dough known as pâte à choux, the classic French dough that is used for cream puffs. 

2 cups milk
½ cup unsalted butter, cubed
2 tsp. salt
dash white pepper
2 cups all-purpose flour
7-8 large eggs
6 oz. Gruyere cheese, finely diced
6 oz. ham, finely diced (optional)
2 tsp. fresh rosemary or fresh thyme (optional)

Have all indredients pre-measured and prepared. Crack 5 of the 8 eggs but do not beat. Heat oven to 375˚. Heat the milk in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan, stirring just until it comes to a gentle boil. Add the butter, salt and a dash of pepper.  Bring to a rolling boil and off the heat, add the flour all at once.  Stir like crazy and over low heat, using a wooden spoon, cook the pastry until the mixture forms a ball and leaves the sides of the pan clean. It will be shiny and smooth. 

Remove the pan from the heat and beat in the 5 eggs, one at a time, incorporating each egg thoroughly before adding the next. (If you have 5 unbeaten eggs in a bowl and you pour very slowly, one will separate and plop out at a time.)

Continue with the remaining 3 eggs, adding one at a time. You may need 7, you may need 8. The dough should be thick enough to hold its shape when plopped on a cookie sheet but not as think as chocolate chip cookie dough.  

When the pastry is shiny and smooth, mix in the cheese and ham.

Line cookie sheets with parchment paper or a silicone mat. With a spoon, scoop the dough in ping-pong ball shapes or smaller. With a your finger, push them off the spoon. 

Leave room around each gougère. They will grow.

Bake for 20-25 minutes until crispy and lightly browned all the way around not just on top. Serve ASAP. The dough can be made ahead 3 to 4 hours but should not be refrigerated. Lightly butter a piece of wax paper and press it on to the the dough to keep a crust from forming. 

Shape and bake just before serving.

Community Cuisine, Barbie Aknin

Bapa's Chouchouka

Bapa’s Chouchouka

Makes about 2 cups

Chouchouka is a cooked tomato and pepper dish from Israel and North Africa (especially Tunisia) where my father in law is from. Every year at our family summer picnic, a serious competition ensues with a trophy for the winner of the years best Chouchouka. The competition is fierce and I have yet to win.

It’s delicious room temperature piled on baguette or pita bread. It can also be simmered in a frying pan with eggs floating on top or with merguez, a spicy lamb sausage added. 

  • 2 to 3 bell or other meaty sweet peppers of equal weight, roasted* 
  • 4 to 6 Tbls. olive oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, two minced and two sliced thinly
  • 1 14-oz. can good quality peeled Italian plum tomatoes with juice
  • 1 small spoonful harissa, a North African chili paste, mild to hot depending on your liking or 1 Tbls. smoked paprika and cayenne pepper to taste
  • 1 Tbls. tomato paste (optional)
  • Fresh parsley or cilantro, coarsely chopped

Pour the tomatoes and juice into a bowl and break up the tomatoes with your hands into small pieces. In a skillet just big enough to fit the ingredients with room to simmer, warm the olive oil over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the minced garlic and stir until wilted. Do Not brown. Add the tomato pieces and their juice into the pan. Simmer for 5 to 10 minutes.

Peel, seed and devein the peppers and cut them into thin strips 1/4-inch or so. Add the peppers and the sliced garlic to the pan. Allow the sauce to simmer, stirring often for 30 to 45 minutes until it thickens and the oil rises to the top. Stir often. A bit of water can be added to keep it from burning however one of Bapa’s secrets (and please don’t share this) is to allow the sauce to burn “just a bit” for added flavor. Season with salt and pepper. Serve at room temperature sprinkled with parsley or cilantro.

Chouchouka with Eggs and Merguez

Serves 4 to 8

  • Double recipe of chouchouka
  • 1 pound merguez sausage, skinned (the eggs are also good with just the Chouchouka)
  • 8 large eggs

Heat a skillet to medium and add merguez breaking up the sausage into small pieces. Fry the sausage until crispy and done. Drain the fat and add the chouchouka to the pan. Gently heat the mixture over medium heat. Stir often and add a bit of water if needed. 

Once hot, break the eggs one at a time into a small dish. Make a dent in the Chouchouka and add an egg. Repeat with remaining eggs placing eggs in their own “nest”. Cover and continue to cook for about 7 to 8 minutes, until the eggs are set. Sprinkle with parsley or cilantro and serve.

Roasting Peppers

Peppers can be roasted over or under any direct heat. You can grill, broil, or use my favorite method, over a gas flame on the stove. I've also done this on an electric burner. If using the oven, set on broil and cover cookie sheets with foil.

Place the peppers over (or under) heat and allow them to blister and char on all sides, top and bottom. Once blackened, place in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap to steam or put them in a plastic bag and seal it. Allow to cool enough to handle.

Once cool, peel the peppers. You can use a dull knife to scrape stubborn bits and don't feel that you have to remove all of the skin. Remove stem and seeds. I prefer not to rinse the peppers as you loose some flavor. 

Summer Squash

Summer squash...

... the vegetable that people grow and give away. If you have a friend with too much zucchini on their hands, accept the offer and try my favorite preparations. 

Summer squash (along with most summer fruits and veggies) is loaded with water unlike their denser, sweeter, winter cousins. Makes sense as summer is the time that we need that extra hydration. They are also detoxifying and they conveniently match our summer mood; who wants to stand over the stove in 100 degree heat?

My favorite things to do with zucchini:

Simply slice large wedges that won’t fall through the grill. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with fresh herbs; I love fresh oregano on zucchini. Grill and serve sprinkled with feta cheese. Grilled zucchini on a salad with grilled chicken or fish is nice too.

Salting is a wonderful way to remove the spongy texture of summer veggies giving them a crisp cooked texture while remaining raw. 

  • Grate small green, yellow, or both zucchini using a box grater or food processor. You need a lot; eight small to medium zucchinis yield about 4 servings. 
  • Place in a colander and sprinkle heavily with sea salt. Toss and leave to drain (with a bowl underneath) for 30 minutes. 
  • In the mean time, heat 1/4 cup of good quality olive oil in a small pan. Add 1/2 cup slivered or sliced almonds, pine nuts or coarsely chopped hazelnuts and sauté until golden. Remove from the heat and cool.
  • Rinse the shredded zucchini well, tasting to make sure the salty taste is mild.
  • Squeeze mounds of the zucchini over the sink, removing as much liquid as possible. 
  • Place in a serving dish loosening up the clumps. Sprinkle with fresh minced parsley and spoon the nut-oil mixture over the zucchini. Olive oil adds flavor and unctuousness so add more if needed. Serve with crostini.
  • Note: you can also slice zucchini thinly and use the same treatment for more of a salad version adding cherry tomatoes, etc.

The preparation above is delicious tossed with hot spaghetti. You can also add lemon zest, chili flakes, Parmesan, fresh basil or oregano, cherry tomatoes, more olive oil....

Lastly, using a good non-stick pan, heat to medium and sprinkle generously with dill, fennel or caraway seeds, which ever you enjoy. Warm the seeds until you begin to smell the fragrance. Lay 1/4-inch slices of squash on the seeds covering the pan. Allow the squash to turn a golden brown. Sprinkle with salt and turn the pieces over to finish cooking. They are delicious with a bit of crunch. 

I hope you are having a fabulous summer!

See you soon, in the kitchen,