I’m not one to boast, but the scores (hordes, legions, truckloads) of plump, ripe, succulent tomatoes that I’ve been picking from my little garden have afforded me bragging rights.
Never–and I really mean NEVER–have I had such success.
Biggest Juiciest Tomatoes EVER!
Check it out—this handful is more the norm than the anomaly.
My friend Kimmie, an avid gardener who follows the Farmers’ Almanac, tells me that it is because I planted them in alignment with the full moon.
I checked back on the calendar, and why, yes, I did. Unintentionally.
Bill speculated that it is because our winter was extra cold, killing off the destructive insect larvae and/or fungus-mold-rot starters hidden in the soil.
I figured the damp spring got our plants off to a terrific start in making blooms, and now that the hot summer days are here, they are bearing beauteous fruits.
And, maybe, it was just time.
Bill’s dad, who was a dedicated farmer by profession, always said you could count on 1 great growing year in 7. Maybe this is that year.
Whatever the case—and I suspect it is a serendipitous confluence of all these factors—I am the happy harvester of Cherokee Purples, Lemon Boys, Sun Golds, Black Krim, Amish Paste, Bradleys, German Pinks, Teardrops, and one other heirloom variety whose clever name escapes me.
We’ve been eating them all ways—caprese, savory tart, pasta sauce, on sturdy bread swiped with mayo—but this salad, a featured recipe in my cookbook, has been favored both at the dinner table, and in my cooking demonstrations.
Cornbread Panzanella is a Southern take on the much loved Italian bread salad. The season’s bounty of ripe sweet tomatoes, crisp cucumbers, and sharp red onion are at the heart of each version. But, instead of using hunks of leftover, stale rustic bread, you make cornbread croutons. (Hint: the cornbread is the only part of this dish that requires turning on the oven. Everything else is either chopped or whisked!)
Instead of tossing the vegetables and bread cubes in a red wine vinaigrette, you make a tangy buttermilk ranch to coat the mixture.
It works beautifully.
After chopping the tomatoes, you put the chunks into a bowl and sprinkle them with salt to coax out their juices. When you toss the mixture with the herbed buttermilk ranch,(enlivened with lemon, flat leaf parsley and scallions) those juices meld with the dressing, creating a luscious rose-tinged sauce.
That soaks into the cornbread croutons, which you’ve toasted to a toothsome crunch. There’s a marvelous combination of textures and tastes.
You could add bits of bacon or pancetta, shavings of parmegianno-reggiano, or a good sharp white cheddar, if you wanted to make it “meatier.” But this big tomato salad makes satisfying summer meal, just as it is. The bread salad theme can be expansive: this BLT version from Cooking Light is mighty tempting.
It has been fruitful outside the garden too–busy promoting the Third Thursday Community Potluck Cookbook. It’s been getting great reviews, I am happy to report, and I’ve been compiling the blogpost and articles here. I appreciate everyone’s kind words and support.
1 1?2 cups cornmeal
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 large eggs
1?2 cup (1 stick) butter, melted
1 cup milk
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a baking sheet.
In a large bowl whisk together the cornmeal, flour, sugar, salt, and baking powder. Whisk in the eggs, melted butter, and milk until well incorporated. Do not overbeat. Pour onto the baking sheet.
Bake until set—golden brown—about 20 minutes.
Allow to cool. Cut into cubes and spread out onto a lightly oiled baking sheet.
Toast for about 15 minutes. Allow to cool.
Makes 2 cups.
HERBED BUTTERMILK RANCH DRESSING
1?2 cup buttermilk
1?2 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 green onions, chopped finely, tops included
1 heaping tablespoon chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1?2 teaspoon granulated garlic
1?4 teaspoon salt
Pinch of black pepper
In a medium bowl combine the buttermilk, mayonnaise, lemon juice, green onions, parsley, garlic, salt, and pepper. Whisk until smooth and creamy. Taste for seasonings and adjust. This will keep, refrigerated, for a week.
Makes 1 generous cup.
1 1?2 cups diced Bradley tomatoes
1?2 cup peeled, seeded, and cubed cucumbers
1?2 cup sliced red onion
1?2 cup chopped fresh basil
Salt and black pepper to taste
In a large bowl combine the tomatoes, cucumbers, onion, basil, salt, and pepper. Add 2 cups of cornbread croutons. Pour the Real Ranch Dressing over the croutons and toss well. Serve immediately.
Cool mornings, steamy afternoons, with isolated downpours daily,
have been the recipe for a lush, dense, almost tropical backyard,
and a happy garden plot:
Chest-high tomato plants are laden with the promise of abundance;
Prolific golden-bloomed squashes double in size overnight, hidden under their great leaf umbrellas;
Aggressive cucumber vines amble over stakes and wires, ever-seeking new places to latch on and climb.
June is done. Summer is here in full regalia.
And, the cookbook is out! Between tending my garden and teaching teen cooking camp, I’ve been making presentations–in book stores, at two restaurants, our farmers’ market, on local television: demonstrating recipes, reading, signing, answering questions, telling our story. The response has been wonderful.
And, it is just the beginning.
In the meantime, I wanted to check in with you and share a recipe. This one is of the quick-and-easy variety: a kind of potato salad (I know, another potato salad recipe?)
New potatoes and string beans are dressed in a Greek yogurt sauce folded with charred red onions. There’s something about it that harkens to old school tastes in an appealing way–however updated. The combination of sea salt, cayenne, a dash of Worchestershire sauce with those crispy onion pieces in thick yogurt cream reminds me of “French Onion Dip.” Only I think you’ll find this one to be much, much better—and certainly healthier.
Stirred into a mixture of petite new potatoes (still slightly warm!) and whatever young string beans you can find (I am partial to yellow wax beans.) the charred red onion dressing (and, yes, it doubles as a dip. Get out your sweet potato chips!) creates a delicious picnic side dish. It is a different take on potato salad.
And goodness knows, as long as there are potatoes and ingenuity, there will always be yet another take on potato salad. Embrace variety!
Thank you all for your interest in and support of my cookbook.
For those of you who have asked “How Can I Buy It?”
Here are the possibilities:
Online at Amazon, Barnes&Noble, Books-a-Million (links are upper right on this page)
In Tennessee: All of the SAM’S CLUBS are stocking the book.
In Nashville: These independent booksellers: Bookman Bookwoman Books in Hillsboro Village and Parnassus in Green Hills.
You may also ask your local bookstore to order the book for you.
Garden New Potatoes with Yellow Wax Beans and Charred Red Onion
1 1/2 pounds new potatoes, halved or quartered depending on size
1/2 pound yellow wax beans (or young green beans), ends snapped
charred red onion dressing (recipe below)
Place potatoes into a large saucepan and cover with water. Add a pinch of salt and a bay leaf. Bring to a boil over medium high heat. Simmer and cook until tender—about 12 minutes. Drain and set aside.
Fill a skillet with water, add a pinch of salt, and bring to a boil. Blanche the beans in batches (do not overcrowd) for 3-4 minutes.
Fill a bowl with ice water. Plunge cooked beans into the ice water bath to chill and stop the cooking.
In a large bowl, fold the potatoes, beans, and charred onion dressing together until well-coated. Serve room temperature or chilled.
Charred Red Onion Dip/Dressing
adapted from Cooking Light
1 cup chopped grilled red onion
1 cup plain lowfat Greek yogurt
1/4 teaspoon Worchestershire sauce
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/8 teaspoon cayenne
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Cut the onion into chunks and place onto a baking sheet. Brush with olive oil, sprinkle with salt. Roast until the onion edges become dark brown and crispy.
Remove from oven and cool. Chop coarsely.
Combine the onion with the remaining ingredients in a mixing bowl. Stir until well combined.
Anatomy of a Salad
The arugula and slices from a lone lemon cucumber? I grew those in my garden patch. The impossibly thin green beans were a gift from neighbor Ray. I purchased the onions and baby new potatoes from Barnes’ stand at the downtown farmer’s market. The ruffled purple basil, flat leaf parsley and garlic scapes all came from our friends at the Fresh Harvest Co-op. I picked up the grape tomatoes and a sweet bell pepper at the grocery store, blocks from my home.
Leaves and stalks, pods and seeds, tubers and fruits: All seemingly disparate parts assemble into a lively composition on this plate.
All the sets of hands that played a part in bringing them: A friend and neighbor, farmers whom I’ve met, farmers whom I’d like to meet, growers in a state not too far away, pickers and truckers and sorters and sellers,
even my own hands.
This salad, which will make a fine dinner, also tells a story about community.
All the connections surrounding this one plate.
All the connections we make at the table.
I am mindful of this, especially at this moment, poised as I am, to launch this cookbook into this world.
Today, June 17, 2014, is the day.
It’s been a long road, from pitch to proposal, contract to manuscript delivery, edits, edits, styling and photography, layout, and more edits. Whew. Here comes the Third Thursday Community Potluck Cookbook.
I couldn’t have done it without my community.
Here’s to Gigi Gaskins, my potluck conspirator and co-host, and all the potluckers who contributed their delectable recipes.
Here’s to my editor, Heather Skelton, who caught the vision for this book, its look and structure. She understood our story, a fluid group of people who meet on the third Thursday of each month, and bring their best efforts, with no assigned dishes, no RSVP.
Together, our recipes and stories travel the arc of the seasons.
Together we celebrate the bounty of the moment.
And, to you all, my dear friends and readers, a community that reaches far and wide.
This is the sort of salad that lends itself well to community. Take what you like, and crown it with a nice dollop of lush green garlic scape aioli.
1 pound young green beans, ends trimmed
2-3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 pound baby new potatoes
1-2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
1 sweet onion, sliced
1 sweet bell pepper, cut into strips
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pint cherry tomatoes
1 lemon cucumber, sliced
1/4 pound arugula
Blanche the green beans: Fill a skillet with water and place over medium high heat. When boiling, plunge the green beans in to cook for 2- 3 minutes (longer, if they are thicker–you want them tender-crisp) Place the cooked beans into a bowl of ice water to set the color and cease the cooking. Drain well.
Pan-roast the new potatoes: Place a skillet on medium heat and add 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add the potatoes. Sprinkle with salt, black pepper, and rosemary. Cover and cook for 15-18 minutes, shaking the skillet periodically, until the potatoes are browned and tender when pierced with a knife.
Caramelize the onions and red pepper strips: Place olive oil in the skillet set on medium heat. Saute the onions until browned.
Remove the onions and add the red pepper strips. Saute until tender-crisp with browned edges.
Assemble the Community Salad
Place the salad elements in sections on a large serving platter. Serves 4 generously.
Serve with Garlic Scape Aioli (recipe below)
GARLIC SCAPE AIOLI
2 or 3 loops of scapes, chopped
1 egg yolk
juice of one lemon
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
3/4 cup olive oil
Place the scapes, egg yolk, lemon juice, and mustard into the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Pulse, then process, slowly pouring in the olive oil. The mixture will thicken and emulsify, resembling a spring green mayonnaise. Taste for salt and add a pinch as needed.
Place into a small serving bowl. Cover and refrigerate. Keeps 3-4 days.
Makes 1 generous cup.
Some plants suffered mightily at the hands of this extreme winter. All over town, rosemary, the size of bushes, died in single digit freezes. Fig trees still look skeletal, no promise of buds yet. But winter’s harshness seems to have brought about an unforeseen benefit for others. Dogwoods, redbuds, crab apple, cherry trees have burst out in vivid profusion. Thickets of narcissus, tulips and iris are in glorious bloom.
It has been hard on our farmer friends. John’s strawberry crop was threatened by an April 15th freeze. Thank goodness he got all the plants covered with plastic the day before–a trying task for sure. Tally notes that her rows of spring vegetables are coming along…however slowly. In comparison to years past, everything is delayed by at least three weeks.
But, I am heartened by warmer days and blooming trees. Soon, plantings of beautiful lettuces will be big as bouquets.
Already, feathery leaves and tender spears are emerging in asparagus beds.
There was a time when you only ate asparagus in season. Over the past two decades or more that shifted, with the globalization of commerce, and produce from far-flung places got shipped in. Asparagus in December! Tomatoes in February! I am glad that we are returning to the practice of eating seasonally. We appreciate the fruits and vegetables all the more, at their peak, in their time, grown in their locale. Indeed, they taste better.
A long time ago, (pre-globalization!) I remember a very fun Asparagus Dinner that I attended, actually helped prepare. It was hosted by our friend Lanny, who lived in a decrepit warehouse on Second Avenue near Nashville’s riverfront. Lanny was a graphic artist, stained glass craftsman, Karman Ghia mechanic, architectural antique collector, consummate barterer and all-around wheeler-dealer.
His warehouse home/studio was a remarkable chaotic assemblage of these passions. You never asked where he got any of it, but, be assured, there was a story behind it all. Curiously, in one of his deals of the day, he had acquired 8 big bundles of freshly cut spears. Soon to follow was the call for Asparagus Dinner. About a dozen of us showed up to wash, peel, trim, snap, steam, blanch, and stir-fry the formidable stack.
This was sometime in the early 1980′s. Our menu reflected the cooking tastes of the time. I remember some of what we whipped up: old school hollandaise sauce to nap over steamed asparagus, creme fraiche-dill sauce as a dip for blanched-chilled spears, and a creamy pasta primavera sort of dish laced with crabmeat. I remember that it was all delicious, this asparagus feast.
With asparagus as the centerpiece, we celebrated spring.
Today, I am offering two asparagus suggestions, both of which have a more modern spin: An asparagus salad dressed in gorgonzola vinaigrette, and asparagus roasted with a Persian-spiced pistachio blend. I love how different they are from each other: Cold and hot, pungent and fruity, crisp and toasty. For my friends who are not in love with asparagus officinalus: the gorgonzola dressing is delicious on salad greens alone—and the spiced pistachio would be just as incredible roasted onto cauliflower!
Wishing you all the flavors of young spring green things!
ASPARAGUS AND SPRING GREENS WITH GORGONZOLA VINAIGRETTE (adapted from Cooking Light)
1 bundle fresh asparagus (about 1 pound), cleaned, trimmed, and cut on the diagonal into thirds
2 1/4 teaspoons salt, divided
2 tablespoons minced chives
2 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
1/4 teaspoon coarse ground black pepper
1/2 cup crumbled gorgonzola, divided
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
1/4 pound mixed spring lettuces
Fill a large skillet or pot with water. Stir in 2 teaspoons salt and bring to a boil on medium high heat.
Plunge in the asparagus pieces and cook for one minute–no more than two minutes (depending on how fat or thin the spears are)
Drain and place into a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking and set the bright green color. When well-cooled, drain the spears and set aside.
Make the vinaigrette:
Place 1/4 teaspoon salt, minced chives, white balsamic vinegar, olive oil, lemon zest, black pepper and 1/4 cup gorgonzola crumbles into a medium mixing bowl. Whisk until well combined.
Place spring greens, asparagus and pine nuts into a large bowl. Drizzle the dressing over the salad and toss until all ingredients are well-coated. Sprinkle with remaining gorgonzola crumbles and serve.
ROASTED ASPARAGUS WITH PERSIAN-PISTACHIO COATING
1 bundle asparagus spears (about 1 pound) washed, dried, and trimmed
1/2 cup toasted pistachios, finely ground
1/4 cup sumac (available at ethnic markets)
3 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Drizzle olive oil (2-3 tablespoons) onto a baking sheet. Lay the asparagus spears onto the pan and roll, coating the spears with the oil. Add more oil if needed.
In a small bowl, mix the finely ground pistachios, sumac, thyme, salt and pepper together. Spread this mixture over the asparagus.
Place into the oven and roast for about 15 minutes. Spears will be tender-crisp and the nut mixture will be toasty.
One Sunday last spring when we were visiting our friends in Rome, we had the good fortune to accompany them on an outing to the small municipality, Pisoniano, a fifty minute drive east of the Eternal City. Their good friends had invited us to spend the day. Our host, Serge, an architect, had been born in this charming hill town. He knew everyone, and held the title as its unofficial mayor.
This particular Sunday felt magical. On this sun-filled day, the town was celebrating L’ Infiorata, or Flower Art Festival. Through the center of the main street ran a long series of “organic mosaics.” Each one was a vibrantly colored image or symbol of Christian faith created out of flower petals, stems, and seeds. Townspeople and visitors such as ourselves, families and friends, gathered to spend the afternoon enjoying the art and fellowship.
Each intricate image was connected to next, forming a brilliant carpet over the cobbles–a carpet you dared not step on! As meticulous and ephemeral as Tibetan sand paintings, each work was a collaborative effort created over thirty-six hours leading up to the festival. No doubt, there were many months in preparation.
After we spent time strolling the flower carpet sidelines, examining each tableau, astonished by the color, texture, and attention to detail, we all went to lunch at Trattoria Bacco. This was no ordinary meal, but one that had been designed by the chefs in keeping with the season and the celebration. Our multi-coursed luncheon began around 1pm and lasted for three hours!
We began our leisurely meal with a plate of antipasta: folds of prosciutto over melon, wrinkled pungent olives, a whip of ricotta, bites of radish. The pacing of service was slow and deliberate. It allowed for lively conversation–eight of us at a community dining table– and time to savor each dish.
We were able to enjoy our company and each course without feeling stuffed–well, at least, not until the end. The servers brought platters of house made ravioli cloaked in red sauce, followed by Tonnarelli alla Verdure, a Roman square-cut egg pasta tossed with seasonal green vegetables: spinach, artichoke, scallions, and small peas.
The supper’s centerpiece was a pork dish, Coscio di Maiale, a fresh ham long simmered in a wealth of garlic, bay leaf, and fennel seeds. Fresh rosemary and thyme were also in the mix, playing background roles.
The meat was sumptuous; juicy and fatty in its fragrant brown gravy. It was that trio–garlic, bay leaf and toasted fennel seeds, remarkable in combination, assertive in amount, that made the pork shine.
Inspiration! I knew that I would have to make this when I returned home.
I haven’t recreated the dish perfectly, not yet.
A fresh ham is not always available at our market, and this cut, with its bones, rich meat and layers of fat, is key to the dish. For my first try, I used a different cut, the sirloin tip. No bones, little fat. Nonetheless, the pork was delicious. And, the gravy, the result of browning then braising hunks of pork with that trio, came close to my remembrance. What a pleasure to have the connection of food, place, and memory: spending a leisurely Sunday afternoon, in the company of family and friends, at the table, doing as the Romans do.
Quantities for both pork and salad recipes are for a large group—10 to 15. With spring here at last, you might be having family and friends over to celebrate. Take time on a Sunday afternoon to relax and dine and visit.
Also, with beets being such a versatile vegetable for spring and fall, be sure to check out Cooking Light’s Guide to Beets for care, storage, growing, and preparation.
PORK BRAISED WITH GARLIC, BAY LEAF, AND TOASTED FENNEL SEED
8 lb. boneless pork roast, such as sirloin tip
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
coarse ground black pepper
4 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 bulb (8-10 cloves) garlic, peeled and sliced
4-5 bay leaves
4 tablespoons fennel seed, lightly toasted
sprig or 2 of rosemary
4 sprigs thyme
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Rub the oil all over the piece(s) of meat. Liberally season with salt and black pepper.
Heat a Dutch oven on medium. Brown the meat on all sides, rotating the piece(s) every 5 minutes. This could take 15-20 minutes.
When the meat is almost finished browning, add the sliced garlic. Continue to cook for 3 minutes, then dust the flour over the meat.
Rotate the piece(s) around in the pan, so that the flour browns a bit.
Pour in water–2-3 cups—enough to almost cover the meat. Stir, loosening up the browned bits on the bottom and sides of the pot.
Plunge in the bay leaves, fennel seed, rosemary, thyme and red pepper flakes.
Cover and reduce the heat to medium low. Let the pork cook, undisturbed, for 1 1/2-2 hours.
Remove the meat and let it sit for 10-15 minutes before slicing.
Increase the heat on the pot to medium high, stirring the remaining sauce, allowing it to reduce and slightly thicken.
Slice the meat and pour the sauce over it. Pour extra sauce into a gravy boat or bowl.
Delicious with roasted potatoes or rice.
Makes 12-15 servings
BEETS AND BLUE SALAD
1/2 pound spring lettuces
3 ruby beets, roasted, peeled and chilled
2 oranges or 4 clementines, peeled, sectioned, sliced
1/2 cup sliced red onion
4 ounces crumbled blue cheese
Place a layer of lettuces on a platter. Slice the beets and arrange over the lettuces, followed by a ring of sliced citrus, and red onion.
Sprinkle crumbled blue cheese. Repeat the layering.
Drizzle with Sweet Heat Dressing and serve.
SWEET HEAT DRESSING
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons orange juice
1 tablespoon orange zest
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1/2 teaspoon minced jalapeno
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup olive oil
Place all of the ingredients into a pint jar. Screw on the lid tightly and shake well. Drizzle over the salad.
Light. This is the challenge, this time of year.
Daily, my work alternates from the kitchen to my home office perch; each space has walls of windows to keep me in tune with the rhythm of the day. Lately I’ve been caught off guard, absorbed by testing recipes, cooking meals, or writing articles, only to look up and find myself shrouded in darkness. The hours move so rapidly, yet I think I’m keeping up.
Suddenly, the curtain drops. Night is here. At 4:45!
Some days I fret at my missed opportunities of sunlight, the better photographs, the lifted spirits. I tell myself–tomorrow, tomorrow—although we know, headed into winter, that each tomorrow means even less.
Moving deeper into the season, I have to capture that light in other ways.
Some mornings Bill and I rise very early, drive to Warner Park, and hike the 2 1/2 mile trail that loops around the wooded hills. Wearing headlamps, we begin in pre-dawn darkness, and find our way along the craggy path. Sometimes I’ll hear the who-who of owls call, or the rustle of a wild turkey flock on its own forest trek. Sometimes I’ll see a set of headlamps on the trail ahead of me, only to realize that it is a set of glowing eyes. A deer!
After thirty minutes of so, we turn off our headlamps. The world is dim, almost colorless, but visible. And then, sunrise.
Ah! Surrounded by hickory and beech trees, their leaves already yellow, we become enveloped in shimmering gold light.
Light and Balance. We need these in the food we eat too.
Today I am sharing two light and leafy recipes–one is a salad, the other cooked greens. Both autumn dishes help to balance out the heavy, hearty fare that defines the approaching holiday season.
I have been relishing fennel, its crunch and lively anise flavor enmeshed in a salad of Honeycrisp apples and clementines. My new favorite! This is a salad of fresh contrasts, melding sweet, peppery, citric, licorice and pungent tastes, with no cooking required. Just skilled prep—apples cut into thin batons, clementines peeled, sectioned and sliced, fennel and red onion almost shaved. Liberally season with salt and black pepper, which will help each element release its juices. Add salted Marcona almonds and your choice of a salty blue (gorgonzola, maytag, danish…)
The dressing is basic. Use a good olive oil—this beauty is from my friends’ biodynamic farm in Tuscany near the Tyrrhennian Sea—and a shake of white balsamic vinegar. As I have learned from Rachel in measuring this, use the Italian sensibility: “q.b.” quanto basto-–what is enough—in other words, use your good judgment.
A member of the chicory family, escarole is a beautiful and mildly bitter green that resembles leafy lettuce. Its core leaves, small and delicate, are ideal in a salad. But the whole head, sliced into ribbons, yields to heat readily, collapsing into a great delectable sopping mound. It makes a sumptuous side dish on its own, or can be spooned over rice or pasta. Served with beans or cornbread, it becomes an Italian dish that has migrated to the South.
In this pot, reds complement the greens. Red onion, red wine vinegar, and a handful of currants to bring pops of sweetness to the dish. You may use golden raisins in place of the currants; either dried fruit will gain a jewel-like glisten in the saute.
I could tell you, “Be grateful for your greens!”–because I am really reminding myself of the same.
Enjoy them chilled crisp in the salad bowl, or braised supple in the Dutch oven.
Enjoy your time with loved ones.
In this season of indulgence, enjoy some time of light and balance.
HONEYCRISP APPLE-CLEMENTINE-FENNEL SALAD
1 Honeycrisp apple, cut into small batons
3-4 clementines, peeled, sectioned, and cut into pieces
1 fennel bulb , shaved or sliced thinly
1/2 medium red onion, sliced thinly
1/2 cup Marcona almonds
1/2 cup crumbled blue cheese
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup white balsamic vinegar
1/2 pound mixed leaf lettuces
Place the prepared apples, clementines, fennel, and red onion into a large chilled bowl. Add the almonds and blue cheese crumbles.
Sprinkle the salt and black pepper over the salad ingredients, followed by the olive oil and white balsamic vinegar. Top with mixed lettuces.
Toss the salad gently but thoroughly, so that the myriad ingredients are well-dispersed and the lightly coated with the oil and vinegar. Taste and adjust for seasonings.
Makes 8-10 servings
WILTED ESCAROLE WITH RED ONION, GARLIC, AND CURRANTS adapted from Cooking Light
5-6 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup sliced red onion
3 cloves minced garlic
2-3 dried red chiles
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3-1/2 cup dried currants
1 large head of escarole, leaves washed and sliced into 1/2 ” thick ribbons
2-3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
Place a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the olive oil. Stir in the red onion, garlic, and dried red peppers. Season with salt and saute the mixture for 2 minutes. The red onion will become translucent. Add the dried currants and saute for another minute.
Add the escarole ribbons. Stir and fold them in the red onion mixture. The heat will cause the escarole leaves to collapse and wilt. Add the red wine vinegar. Cover and reduce the heat to low. Allow the escarole to braise for 5 minutes.
Makes 8 servings
The unpredictability of harvests causes me to marvel at the steadfast dedication of farmers. One season to the next, they never know how well or poorly a crop will do, despite all care and meticulous planning. And, under the same weather conditions, one planting will thrive, while another fizzles.
In 2010, Gigi had a bumper crop of figs. In the two years that followed, her trees bore meager fruit. It had us worried—was 2010 a fluke? Last week, that notion was dispelled when Gigi called me with this report:
“We need to pick figs. Now!”
Her trees were–and still are—covered. Plump ripe knobs, some royal purple, others streaked greenish-brown, are ready to be plucked and relished. The next morning, I met Gigi at the garden. We picked a fast 100, and two days later, I returned to gather another basketful.
Joy. The figs are back, with the promise of so many more to come. Time to enjoy them now, and preserve them for the future.
My plan was two-fold. I could envision delectable figs roasted to sweetness, tucked in lettuce leaves with goat cheese, chives, and bacon for a summer meal. (almonds for my vegetarians!) What I didn’t use in the salad, I’d put up in mason jars. Roasted Figs in Syrup!
I began by halving the figs and arranging them on a baking sheet scattered with thin lemon wedges. After I dusted them with sugar and a spritz of white balsamic vinegar, I placed them into the hot oven.
I had forgotten how effective and deeply delicious this method is. Very quickly the sugar melts as the figs release their juices. The lemon and vinegar meld into the mix, enhancing the figgy taste, while balancing the sweetness. A gorgeous caramel-ruby syrup results, glazing the fruit in the pan. And that tangy syrup becomes the perfect medium to drizzle into the lettuce cups, the salad’s dressing really.
As for the rest, well, I have a few ideas. I love them baked on flatbread with prosciutto, leeks, and soft gorgonzola. The figs in syrup are sublime with mascarpone on a slice of crusty toasted baguette. Check out Cooking Light’s Guide to Figs for other tips and recipes. I am always open to new recipes with this ancient, treasured fruit, and would love to have your recommendations, too.
Of course, we fig lovers know that there is nothing quite like that one, sun-warmed and ripe right off the tree, sticky to the touch and honeyed to the bite.
ROASTED FIG-GOAT CHEESE-BUTTER LETTUCE CUPS
25 leaves butter (or Boston) lettuce, washed and spun dry
1 11 ounce log plain goat cheese
8-10 strips thick slab cut bacon cooked crisp and crumbled -OR-
1/2 cup sliced toasted almonds
1 1/2 cups roasted figs in syrup (recipe follows)
coarse ground black pepper
Arrange butter lettuce leaves on a platter. Cut the goat cheese log into small slices or pieces, placing a piece into each lettuce cup.
Sprinkle the goat cheese with chives.
Sprinkle cooked bacon or toasted almonds into the cups.
Place a fig half over the goat cheese.
Drizzle with figgy syrup and season with coarse ground black pepper.
Makes 25 appetizers or 10-12 mains.
ROASTED FIGS IN SYRUP
15 ripe figs, washed, dried and cut in half lengthwise
1 lemon, sliced into 10 wedges
1/4 cup sugar
2-3 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Place the fig halves on a baking sheet. Scatter the lemon wedges around the figs.
Sprinkle the sugar over the figs. Sprinkle the vinegar over the sugared figs.
Place into the oven and roast for 10-12 minutes, rotating the pan after the halfway (5-6 minutes) mark.
Cook until the figs become puffed and release their juices.
The juices will meld with the melted sugar and vinegar to make a luscious syrup.
Remove from the oven and cool. Place the fig and lemon pieces into a medium bowl or 12 ounce jar. Scrape the accumulated juices-syrup from the pan over the figs.
Makes 1 1/2 cups.
Note: You may double the batch and preserve the figs and syrup in 3-8 ounce jars and process in a hot water bath for 15 minutes.
We are blissfully in the thick, luscious thick of tomato season in Tennessee.
At the farmers’ market, I am agog at the array of bushel baskets, heaped with Bradleys and Brandywines, Lemon Boys and Purple Cherokees. I’m tempted by Mortgage Lifters, if for nothing but cunning name alone, and those crazy striped Green Zebras that don’t taste green at all.
Have you ever tried the red and yellow variegated ones, sometimes called Candystripers? How about those delicate peach tomatoes with the fuzzy skins?
It makes me not mind the thick heat around here—as long as I can include these gorgeous heirlooms in our summertime dining.
So many tomatoes, so many ways to enjoy them, and a few glorious weeks to indulge in the bounty. Salsas, soups, panzanellas, pastas, deep dish pies and napoleons…like you, I’m ever on the lookout for another tomato-centric recipe.
Lately I’ve been in a building mode, constructions! inspired by this stack I found on Cooking Light’s website.
Artful towers of tomatoes get vitality (and height!) from myriad ingredients sandwiched between their slices. These structures require almost no cooking: a few strips of bacon fried crisp in the skillet, a half cup of balsamic vinegar reduced in a pot to a syrup.
That minimal stovetop time is a real boon in summer. Eaten with a fork and knife, the tomato towers have a meatiness that satisfies greedy appetites, while being cool and refreshing. They can be elegant. They are fun.
I’ve taken two different approaches in assembling my towers. The first is a natural–a vertical caprese, brandishing the colors of the Italian flag in tomato-fresh mozzarella-basil. Layer in a sliver of red onion, to give a little bite. I like to use balsamic vinegar reduction–the syrup is deeply sweet-tart and makes beautiful striping over the stack and plate. Use your best olive oil; this is what is was made for!
Going forward, you can get creative; change it up. Maybe add a layer of cucumber or zucchini. Substitute the mozzarella with a slather of ricotta or mascapone. Tuck in a ripple of prosciutto. No basil on hand? Try oregano or thyme.
Tower Two takes a Southern stance, layering elements of my favorite sandwich, the BLT, (actually, the BLTCA: bacon-lettuce-tomato-cheddar-avocado!) under a pour of chive-laced buttermilk dressing. How can you go wrong with that? It could only be improved with some grilled corn, cut off the cob, and strewn over the stack.
Remember–don’t refrigerate tomatoes! Chilling them changes their structure and makes them mealy.
a variety of ripe heirloom tomatoes, cored and cut into 1/2 ” slices
a few cherry or grape tomatoes, halved, for garnishing
1/2 lb. fresh mozzarella, cut into 1/4″ inch rounds
handful of fresh basil leaves
1/2 small red onion, sliced thinly
1/4 cup balsamic syrup
1/4 cup favorite extra virgin olive oil
cracked black pepper
Start with large flat tomato slices as your foundation. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place a basil leaf (or two) on top, then a little bit of red onion. Cover each with a piece of mozzarella. Dot with good olive oil and drizzle with balsamic syrup. Repeat the layering, topping with cherry or grape tomato halves and more basil. Secure with a long toothpick or short skewer. Pour olive oil over each tower, along with a zig-zag of balsamic syrup. Serve.
a variety of ripe heirloom tomatoes, cored and cut into 1/2″ slices
a few cherry or grape tomatoes, halved, for garnishing
6 slices bacon, cooked crisp
1/2 avocado, sliced
4-6 slices sharp white cheddar (you may crumble or shred the cheese)
buttermilk dressing (recipe below)
salt and black pepper
Start with a large flat tomato slice as your foundation. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Add a slice or two of avocado, followed by bacon strip and cheddar. Spoon a little buttermilk dressing over the top. Repeat layers, spooning a generous amount of buttermilk dressing. Secure with a long toothpick or short skewer. Make as many towers as you would like, allowing one per person. Pass a few grinds of black pepper over the lot and serve.
1 cup buttermilk
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
1/4 teaspoon granulated garlic
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 heaping tablespoons fresh chives, finely chopped
Pour buttermilk into a non-reactive bowl. Stir in lemon juice and white wine vinegar. Allow the mixture to sit and thicken for ten minutes. If it clabbers, don’t worry. It will become smooth again when stirred or whisked.
Add granulated garlic, salt, pepper, and chives. Stir well. Cover and refrigerate. The dressing will continue to thicken and its tangy flavors will develop. (If you want it thicker, (and richer) whisk in a dollop or two of mayo. Whoa.
Makes one cup.
A cool, wet spring has made it positively lush in our little part of the world. Our backyard is a crazy jungle of vines, great leafed-out maples and catalpas, a plum tree dripping with the promise of a bountiful harvest. We’ve got knock-out roses living up to their name in a riot of red. Fragrant peony blossoms so huge they’ve tumbled over, spilling their petals onto the stone patio.
Perennial herbs, my kitchen delight—sage, rosemary, oregano, thyme—are all in profuse bloom too. In our garden, early crops of lettuces, spinach, arugula, scallions, and sugar snaps have taken hold.
It’s been a beautiful time of year, so alive, so fleeting, that I’ve stopped to soak up whenever I could–before summer’s heat sets in.
It hasn’t been as easy as other years; commitments of work, travel, family, community have had our household on the move. Trust me, this is not a complaint. It’s simply how this cycle in life is spinning right now.
I do have some exciting pieces of news to share.
This week, I am happy to report, I clicked “SEND” and my cookbook manuscript whooshed off to the publisher.
Another step, complete. I will keep you posted as the process continues to unfold.
Next week, Bill and I leave for Rome. Fourteen days on an adventure that has little construct! It is rather unlike our other trips, where we’ve had A Plan. This time, we are surrendering to the moment, and we’ll see where it takes us. In a city steeped in history, the arts, cuisine, we’ll have no shortage of things to explore and experience.
What we do know: We have American friends, living there since 2008, with whom we’ll be staying. So, we have a most hospitable base of operations.
And, I will meet Rachel–food writer extraordinaire, Roman resident of nine years, creator of racheleats, –”in real life” as I used say as a child. We’ve come to know each other through our respective blogs. Now, we get the chance to expand that friendship. The world is an amazing place, isn’t it?
Before I start packing for the Eternal City, I want to share a recipe that you might enjoy making for a picnic. In the States, Memorial Day is coming up–when many of us fire up the grill and indulge in those fleeting tastes of spring–and harbingers of summer.
The inspiration for this dish comes from Cooking Light, the food magazine devoted to healthy delicious eating. The folks at CL have invited me to be a part of their blogging community, and as our philosophies about food and health align, I am pleased to join.
The recipe uses ingredients of the season, many flourishing in my garden: sugar snaps, spinach, green garlic, and thyme.
The success of this dish relies on a wealth of fresh lemon juice and thyme leaves, which both marinate the chicken, and infuse the vinaigrette. Don’t skimp! It doesn’t take long for the lemon and herb to permeate the meat. It’s pretty easy to place the breasts into a ziplock bag, add the marinade, swish, seal, and refrigerate—for about an hour.
After a sear on the grill, that juicy chicken gets sliced, then tossed with baby spinach, yellow bell peppers and sugar snap peas. A pour of vinaigrette brings together simple vibrant tastes, appealing colors, and a harmony of textures. If you want to bulk it up a bit for a crowd, as I did for our Third Thursday Potluck, add some mezze penne–a smaller ridged pasta.
When I return from this adventure, I’m sure I’ll have some good food tales to tell. Stay tuned! If you have a Roman Tip to share—something you deem a “Can’t Miss”—art, food, culture, anything!–please let me know in the comments below.
GRILLED LEMON THYME CHICKEN SALAD
adapted from Cooking Light
Marinade for Chicken:
3/4 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice (3-4 large lemons, 6-8 small lemons)
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
zest from 1 large lemon
2 heaping tablespoons fresh thyme leaves
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
3.5 lbs boneless chicken breasts (6-8 pieces)
Other Salad Ingredients:
1 lb. sugar snap peas
1 lb. yellow and orange bell peppers
1 1/2 cups dry penne pasta
1 lb. baby spinach
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
1 clove roasted garlic
1 tablespoon fresh thyme
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
Place marinade ingredients into a bowl and whisk well. Place chicken breasts into a one gallon ziplock bag. Pour in marinade, swishing it around to coat all of the pieces.
Seal and refrigerate for one hour. Don’t marinate more than an hour—the acid in the lemon will “cook” the meat.
Remove chicken from the ziplock bag, discarding marinade.
When coals are ashen, place the chicken onto the grill. Cook approximately 7 minutes per side, or until done.
Cook penne pasta according to package directions in lightly salted water. Drain well. Place in large bowl and toss with 1 tablespoon olive oil.
Heat a large skillet. Add one tablespoon olive oil. Saute sugar snap peas, in batches, until bright green–about two minutes.
Place in large bowl with penne.
Saute julienned bell pepper strips until caramelized–or–if using baby sweet bells, place them in the skillet whole and let them char on all sides. Remove and cut into julienned strips when cool. Add strips to large bowl with penne and sugar snaps.
Slice chicken breasts into 1/4″ thick strips.
Make Lemon-Thyme Vinaigrette: Place all ingredients in a blender and mix until emulsified, or place ingredients in a small bowl and use an immersion blender to mix.
Place spinach leaves in a large mixing bowl. Add penne, sugar snaps, sweet yellow bell pepper strips, and grilled chicken strips.
Pour lemon-thyme vinaigrette over the ingredients and toss well so that all of the salad elements are lightly coated with dressing.
Mound in a salad bowl. Garnish with lemon twists and fresh thyme, if desired.
Cocozelle Zucchinis, Yellow Crooknecks, and now, Buttersticks.
Thanks to our diligent garden, it’s been a squash-filled summer.
Are you familiar with Butterstick Squash?
New to our garden this year, these hybrids have dark green tips and deep gold bodies, with some green streaking. Similar to zucchinis, they grow long and straight. Unlike zucchinis, ( which can hide under vast stalks and leaves until they are baseball bats!) their bright yellow color brashly announces their presence, and readiness for picking.
The flesh is firm, with a delicate, almost nutlike flavor. Seeds are minute. Easily sliced into thin coins, batons, or planks, buttersticks are cooperative. They perform well in all manner of recipes.
This is indeed helpful, because, if you are like me, the quest for different summer squash dishes is a constant from June through September.
Such a tender squash can be eaten raw.
As I was considering a preparation, I recalled a certain post in the delectable blog, My Little Expat Kitchen created by Magda.
A Greek woman living in The Netherlands, she introduces her readers to specialty dishes from her homeland interspersed with other recipes using the fresh seasonal goods found in Holland. Her photography is stunning, and her engaging voice unmistakable in her fine writing. (She also has an abiding love of chocolate, with recipes to match.)
Magda had marinated raw zucchini slices, and layered them several planks high, each in a slather of ricotta-feta cheese mixture with lemon and dill. It was her Tower.
That post was over two years ago—but its simplicity and beauty stood out for me. Whenever you can prepare an exceptional dish without firing up the stove—well, that’s a huge benefit in the heat of August.
With her inspiration, and select ingredients on hand, I decided to make my version, Butterstick Crudo.
It didn’t take long to whip up.
Chevre, churned with olive oil, lemon, green onion, fresh oregano, and just a hint of honey, serves as both slather and marinade for the butterstick slices. I recently bought some local honey that has a light yet distinct floral taste. A scant teaspoon imparts a desired essence of lavender, without being too sweet, or overpowering.
Be sure to season with sea salt and cracked black pepper, to taste.
The mixture will be thin–that’s to be expected. After you lay out a row of thin squash planks, get a spoonful and guide a stripe of the chevre down the center of each one. Place another plank on top and repeat the process.
Mine are not towers–just three stories high.
On to the finishing touches:
Scatter more fresh oregano leaves,
Marigold petals–if you have them—give a distinctive pop
A quick squeeze of lemon, and
A drizzle of good olive oil over the dish…
Place in the refrigerator for an hour, if you would like the chevre to set up. The chilled butterstick stacks slice neatly.
But, it is just as delicious at room temperature. Eat with a piece of crusty bread to swipe up all the creamy dressing.
And, use any leftover seasoned cheese blend stirred into scrambled eggs, or spread on a piece of toast. So good!
BUTTERSTICK ZUCCHINI CRUDO
3-4 small to medium sized young Butterstick Squashes or Zucchinis
4 oz. Chevre
2 t. fresh Lemon Juice
1 t. Honey
2 t. Olive Oil
1 Scallion, cut into small pieces
1 heaping Tablespoon fresh Oregano leaves
Sea Salt and Black Pepper–to taste
Marigold petals–to garnish
Wash, dry, and cut of the ends of the squashes. With a sharp knife, cut lengthwise into thin (1/4″ thick) slices.
In a mixing bowl, place goat cheese, lemon juice, olive oil, honey, scallion pieces, and oregano leaves. Using a hand-held blender, process until smooth. Season with salt and black pepper, and mix a bit more. Mixture will be a little runny.
Lay out squash slices onto a serving platter. Spread each slice with seasoned chevre. Layer each with another slice, then more cheese mixture. Finish each with a final slice. Drizzle olive oil over the vegetables. Sprinkle with salt, black pepper. Garnish with fresh oregano leaves and marigold petals, if you like.
Refrigerate for about an hour to set.