I had forgotten how it is, when I travel by car for any length of time. In mere days, the rhythm of the road takes over as the rhythm of life, marked off in mile posts and fuel stops, Best Western Motels and Starbucks coffees, paced by the hospitality of friends and family along the way.
Thoughts and cares of my own home fade. What is present becomes my focus–the endless flat stretches of highway through Kansas prairie, the shifting views of snow-capped Rockies in mist, the blue skies over Utah, wide and deep, dotted with lolling cotton clouds, the pink and white oleanders, heavy in bloom, spilling over the median on the California freeway.
Driving away from the day-to-day takes you to new places in the mind. For me, it brings up the curious mix of lives not claimed, and yet, the pervasive connection of all life.
What if the barren high desert of Nevada was the place I called home? Can I imagine life on a lone ranch, miles from neighbors? “Choosing this life sends out roads to earn their way without us.”
And then there’s the wonder of connection. My cousins and I see one other rarely, and yet the warm familial love doesn’t care about the years. It time jumps. Hanging out in the kitchen, making food for the book event, talking and laughing…we’ve never been apart.
Here’s another one: On the morning of the book signing, my cousin Jeanne got an email from a woman named Nancy H. Turns out she used to play bridge with my aunt, AND she is a long-time follower of my blog. It wasn’t until she read my last post with the invitation that she made the connection. She came to book signing, and we got to meet. How amazing is that?
That theme continued on our journey. In Berkeley, a friend from high school days–again someone I’ve seen little of over 40 years– helped me get ready for the signing at Pegasus Books. We shopped at the Berkeley Bowl together. I made Cornbread Panzanella in her kitchen.
And, at the Pegasus signing itself: Gerlinde of Sunny Cove Chef took the sweet notion to drive up from Santa Cruz to attend. We’ve virtually met through our blogs, now we’ve really met. The power of the web. The power of connections.
Five thousand miles, and we’re back home. Bill and I thought that everything looked fine, but felt different. We wandered from room to room, detached from our place. We’d taken up the gypsy life and hadn’t switched back into our old and familiar ways.
There’s nothing like preparing a meal in your own kitchen, sharing it with friends, to get you grounded. I’m getting there.
For today’s dish, I rummaged the fridge and pantry—found viable potatoes, beets,and green onions…green peas in the freezer. I snipped arugula and thyme from the yard.
It was kind of a throw-together, but it worked. Roasting the veggies, coating them in mustardy sweet-sour marinade, pulsing tangy arugula into the vinaigrette combined to make a delicious late spring salad.
LATE SPRING POTATO-PEA SALAD WITH ARUGULA-THYME VINAIGRETTE
2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, washed and cut into 1/2 ” slices
3 medium beets, cleaned
1 cup olive oil, divided
kosher or sea salt
2 cups small green peas, frozen
1 bundle green onions, divided
8 ounces fresh arugula
1/2 cup, divided white balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup coarse grain mustard
1 bunch fresh thyme
3-4 strips crumbled bacon (optional)
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. On one sheet pan, place the sliced potatoes. Pour about 1/4 cup oil over the slices, and toss to coat. Sprinkle with salt and black pepper. Roast for 20-25 minutes, until golden brown.
One another sheet pan lined with foil or parchment, place the beets. Coat with olive oil, sprinkle with salt, and place into the preheated 425 degree oven to roast for 25-30 minutes.
Place the peas into a saucepan. Add 1/4 cup water and bring to a simmer on low heat, cooking the peas until tender, but still with bright green pop. Remove from heat, drain and cool.
Chop two greens onions and pick 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves. Stir into the peas and set aside.
Remove potatoes from baking pan. Deglaze the pan with 1/4 cup white balsamic vinegar and 2 tablespoons coarse grain mustard. Stir up any crusty bits into the sauce. Pour over the potatoes.
Remove the beets and allow to cool. Peel and slice into rounds. Splash with 1 tablespoon vinegar and set aside.
Make the Arugula Thyme Vinaigrette:
In a food processor fitted with the steel blade, place 3 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar, 1 tablespoon coarse grain mustard, 3 chopped green onions, 1 tablespoon fresh thyme, and 1 cup arugula leaves. Pulse until chopped together, then process, pouring in the 1/2 cup olive oil, a little at a time.
Season with salt and black pepper to taste.
Place a bed of arugula onto the base of the salad bowl. Place a ring of marinated potato slices, followed by a ring of sliced pickled beets, finished with a mound of peas. Dot the salad with little pours of the green vinaigrette. Sprinkle bacon bits over the salad if desired.
Holiday Trio: winter jewel salad with roasted shallot dressing, “stamppot,” balsamic vinegar pot roast
It is the Sunday after Thanksgiving, and the last day of November. It’s overcast this afternoon, and oddly quiet in my neighborhood–perhaps the clouds have muffled the usual sounds of busy-ness. Perhaps everyone is just laying low, passing a restful time, post-feasting.
Poised as we are on the brink of December, I call this little respite the calm before the fury: Holidays, families, friends, parties and travels; trees and wreaths and lights, cooking and baking, shopping and wrapping…
Maybe it doesn’t have to be a mad dash, a stress-filled careen through the remaining 31 days of 2014. What if it’s simply fun? I’m looking for that. Fun, with an accent on simple.
In that spirit, I’ve assembled a trio of delicious dishes, for your pleasure. They fall into that simple category, to be sure, but they each share qualities that make them seem more complex, like you’d spent overwrought time on them.
But we don’t want to do that. We want to have fun.
Start with this Winter Jewel Salad, so-called because of its scatter of pomegranate seeds,that glisten like little rubies on this composed salad of mixed greens, citrus fruits, avocados and gorgonzola. As delectable as it is pretty on the holiday dinner table! I serve it with a whip of honey-roasted shallot vinaigrette on the side. Yes, there are flecks of green–fresh thyme leaves–in it. Savory-sweet.
When I lived in The Netherlands many years ago, I ate potatoes every day—like most Dutch. One of my favorite preparations was Stamppot–a boiled potato-vegetable mash. Sometimes it’s made with carrots and onions that are mashed and mixed with the “apples of the earth.” Other times, spinach or endive are folded into the puree. I could count on stamppot, in either root vegetables or bitter green version, to be hearty, tasty, and satisfying.
Recently, I made a Down-South variation of this rustic Dutch mainstay. I used Yukon gold potatoes, carrots, and onions—which follow tradition. But, I changed things up by adding parsnips–of which I’ve become very fond–and buttermilk.
I have found my favorite, a whole buttermilk from JD Country Farms in Russellville Kentucky. It is thick and luscious. It reminds me more of kefir or yogurt. I could drink it! It adds wonderful body and tang to the dish.
Last, but not least is this Beef Roast, braised to tenderness in balsamic vinegar. Back in my catering days, when I would make pot roast dinners for 50, 100, 250 people, and therefore would wield great rounds of beef, I made my “balsamic vinegar discovery.” I didn’t have any red wine on hand to flavor the meat, so I tried using the vinegar instead. I was really happy with the result. Marinated and braised into the meat, it imbued a caramel-wine sweetness, while insuring fork-tender bites. (I have since discovered the marinating power of balsamic in other dishes, such as this Grilled Balsamic Skirt Steak from Cooking Light.)
WINTER JEWEL SALAD WITH HONEY-ROASTED SHALLOT VINAIGRETTE
1/4 pound Arugula
1/4 pound Baby Spinach
Citrus Fruits: 1 grapefruit, 3 tangerines, peeled and cut into slices
1/2 pound sugar snap peas, (or asparagus spears) blanched and chilled
2 ounces gorgonzola cheese, crumbled
1 cup pomegranate seeds
After you gather your salad ingredients, assemble them in a large shallow (rather than deep) bowl–it is easier to compose the salad. Start with a foundation of greens, and then arrange the citrus, avocado, sugar snaps (or asparagus, cut into thirds) Add the gorgonzola crumbles.
Finish with a generous spray of pomegranate seeds, which look like pretty jewels on the salad.
Cover and chill until ready to serve. Make the vinaigrette to serve alongside.
Makes 8 servings
HONEY-ROASTED SHALLOT VINAIGRETTE
1 large shallot, roasted
3 tablespoons champagne vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon coarse ground black pepper
12 tablespoons olive oil
Halve or quarter the roasted shallot and place into the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Add the remaining ingredients EXCEPT for the olive oil. Pulse until rough chopped and somewhat combined.
Process, adding the olive oil, one tablespoon at a time.
Makes one cup.
3 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, scrubbed, peeled and cut into 2″ chunks
1/2 pound carrots, scrubbed and cut into 2″ lengths
1/2 pound parsnips, scrubbed and cut into 2″ lengths
2 medium onions, peeled and cut into eighths
1 stick butter
salt to taste
black pepper to taste
1 cup buttermilk
Place all of the vegetables into a large pot. Fill with cool water to cover.
Sprinkle in a teaspoon of salt. Cover with the lid and place on medium high heat. Bring to a boil and cook until the vegetables are tender—18-20 minutes.
Drain the vegetables and return them to the pot, set on low heat. Shake the pot so that any excess water will cook off. Cut up a stick of butter into the mixture. Sprinkle with salt and black pepper. Coarsely mash the vegetables together.
Pour in the buttermilk and continue to mash. Taste for seasonings, adjust and serve.
Makes 8-10 servings
BEEF ROAST BRAISED IN BALSAMIC
1 cup balsamic vinegar, divided
1/4 cup red wine (optional)
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1/2 red onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
4 pounds boneless beef chuck roast
2 bay leaves
1 bunch fresh thyme
1/4 cup all purpose flour
Make an overnight marinade for the beef:
Mix 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar with red wine, 1/4 cup olive oil, Worcestershire sauce. Stir in chopped onion and minced garlic, salt and black pepper. Place the beef into a non-reactive container and pour over the marinade. Turn the beef a few times to make sure it is well covered. Cover and refrigerate.
Heat a Dutch oven on medium. Add remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil. Remove the beef from the marinade and begin browning the meat on all sides. It will take about 5 minutes a side.
Add water, about 1 1/2 cups, just enough to cover the meat. Add bay leaves and fresh thyme.
Cover and reduce the heat to low. Braise the beef for 2 hours. Uncover, flip, and continue braising for another hour.
In a small bowl, mix the remaining 3/4 balsamic vinegar with the flour to make a smooth paste.
When the beef is fork tender, remove from the Dutch oven. Discard bay lleaves and thyme. Stir in the balsamic-flour paste to the juices in the pot. Cook on low to make a thin rich gravy.
Carve the roast into thin slices, trimming any fat. Return the slices to the gravy.
Simmer. Taste for seasonings and adjust as needed.
It’s the last day of August, and my summer garden is looking ragged. The ongoing battle with Johnson grass is over and I’ve surrendered: a thick border now entrenched along the fence row, and tall clumps reside undisturbed among the tomatoes and wax beans.
Arugula, long since bolted, has reseeded, trying to bully its way up through the weeds. One by one flourishing squashes have collapsed, victims of those dreaded borers. Two large tomato plants yellowed and died, seemingly overnight, the reason unknown.
Nonetheless, my visits remain fruitful and full of wonder. My stand of Mexican sunflowers continues to put out astonishing blooms in copper, bronze, and blazing yellow, even when their primary heads are bare, petals dropped, seeds picked clean by feasting goldfinches.
The slow-growing Italian roasting peppers are showing streaks of bright red, their fiery signal for harvest.
A few heavy rains have inspired the tomatoes to produce again, although not in the gargantuan sizes of July, and their skins are a bit tougher.
And my lone eggplant, which weathered an early onslaught of flea beetles, is forming plump white and purple streaked fruit. Sweaty, dusty, but excited, I return home with my pouch filled with just-picked things for dinner.
What to make?
Today’s recipe comes from my cookbook: Caroline’s Warm Eggplant Salad. It uses my garden spoils so well! I’ve embellished only slightly–having found a genius idea in the Farmer’s Market issue of Cooking Light (June 2014).
Chef Deborah Madison shared a simple beefsteak tomato salad with fried tomato skins. It’s those fried skins that caught my attention. They are easy to prepare, and add a welcome bite as a garnish-a clever use for these late summer-tough skinned “maters.”
After you plunge your tomatoes in boiling water, quickly cooling them in an icy bath, you slip off the skins. Your tomatoes are ready to cube for the salad. Dab the skins dry and pan fry them in a small amount of oil. They’ll become like thin glassy pieces of cellophane, crisp–and when drained and salted–almost “bacony.”
Even without the fried skins, the salad is simply delicious. A splash of sherry vinegar (a nice change-up from balsamic or red wine,) minced garlic and salt coax out the sumptuous tomato juices. Chunks of roasted eggplant gain a rich brown crisp, and soft sweet flesh.
If you’d prefer this to be vegan, omit the fresh mozzarella. I like the extra meatiness the cheese brings. It turns the salad into a one-dish meal, especially if you serve it with crusty bread to mop up all those lush juices.
I haven’t tired of the tomatoes—not yet. In fact, knowing that their time is waning makes me savor them all the more. The seasonal shift is soon to come.
WARM EGGPLANT-TOMATO SALAD WITH FRIED TOMATO SKINS
adapted from Third Thursday Community Potluck Cookbook
1 large eggplant, unpeeled, cut into 1-inch cubes
3 tablespoons olive oil
Coarse kosher salt and black pepper to season eggplant
5 ripe heirloom tomatoes, skins removed* and cubed
2 to 3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, chopped
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 cup fresh mozzarella, diced
*Recipe to follow
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
In a large bowl combine the cubed eggplant with the olive oil in a large bowl and toss well to coat. Spread the eggplant out on a baking sheet. Sprinkle with kosher salt and pepper. Bake for 12 minutes. Turn the eggplant over and bake until soft, with browned edges, about 12 minutes longer.
While the eggplant is cooking, toss the cubed tomatoes, minced garlic, and chopped basil together in a large salad bowl. Add the extra-virgin olive oil and sherry vinegar along with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Toss gently to blend.
Allow the eggplant to cool slightly, about 5 minutes. Add warm eggplant to the tomato mixture and toss. Let this sit at room temperature for about an hour before serving to allow the flavors to marry.
Right before serving, fold in the diced fresh mozzarella. Garnish with fried tomato skins and serve.
FRIED TOMATO SKINS
from Deborah Madison for Cooking Light
5 heirloom tomatoes
1/4 cup vegetable oil
kosher or sea salt
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Core tomatoes; discard cores. Place tomatoes in boiling water for 15 seconds. Plunge tomatoes into ice water; drain. Peel; arrange skins flat on a jelly-roll pan. Cut peeled tomatoes into 1/2-inch-thick slices; arrange on a platter.
Heat 1/4 cup oil in a small skillet over medium-high heat. Add half of skins to oil; cook 2 minutes or until crisp, turning occasionally. Drain on a paper towel; repeat procedure with remaining skins. Discard oil in pan. Sprinkle skins with 1/8 teaspoon salt.
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.