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Tomatoes

Even with our cool, wet spring and cool, wet early summer my tomatoes are coming on full steam. I pick some everyday now and somehow having fresh tomatoes on the counter makes dinner easy. They are so long-awaited, so sweet and beautiful and liven up practically any ingredient or comfortably take the main stage. And speaking of the tomato bounty and the pepper, eggplant, and corn bounty that’s upon us, I have two classes scheduled in late September that will take full advantage of these fleeting pleasures.

The first Black Krim, some Early Girls, Stupice, and Sungolds--this morning's harvest.

But back to today’s tomatoes . . . for lunch they make their way into sandwiches with a fried egg or just basil and sharp cheddar or a BLT if I really have it together. For dinner they get diced and tossed with feta and basil and maybe cucumber and lots of basil.

And there’s nothing better than that first fresh tomato sauce. In a large skillet, even the juiciest slicing tomatoes cook into a luscious sauce over high heat in just 10 minutes or so. Start with some diced onion, add the tomatoes (I never bother to peel or seed them, just dice and toss them in) and a bit of minced garlic if you like and finish with a bit of fresh basil or dried or fresh oregano. Toss with pasta or top a pizza with it. Or poach some eggs in it and eat with some good, crusty bread

This is a standard Italian dish. If you have pre-made tomato sauce it takes mere minutes and if you have fresh tomatoes it doesn't take much longer to put together a quick sauce. Top the eggs with some grated parmesan towards the end for a fancier dish and be sure to have some good bread on hand to serve with this.

If you have a little more time, I urge you to make this wonderful tart with tomatoes and goat cheese I started making last year after seeing it on David Lebovitz’s blog. It’s actually quite simple even though it does involve a crust.

Tomato and Goat Cheese Tart

And finally, if you need a picnic dish (though the tart is great for that too) and have some garbanzo beans (or white beans would probably be good too) on hand, toss them with diced tomatoes, some cucumber, maybe some arugula and/or basil and some sweet onions. Crumble some feta and dress with a vinegary dressing and you’ve got a wonderful refreshing and hearty salad.

Quick Garbanzo Bean and Tomato Salad.

Happy Cooking and Eating!

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Green Curry Summer Squash Soup

A lovely summery soup of squash, new potatoes, coconut milk and basil over rice.

I’ve had a good summer squash recipe repertoire for quite a while. But this year I’m expanding it even more. This season I am  creating customized recipe packets for a local CSA farm here in the Portland area every week. The farmer tells me what will be in the share on Saturday and by Sunday night I submit a comprehensive packet of recipes and tips for that week’s produce. Zucchini and all manner of summer squash are a mainstay in the share this time of year and I’ve enjoyed trying some new recipes for these tender, sweet, prolific veggies.

New potatoes and summer squash.

This dish was inspired by the ever clever and creative Heidi Swanson from her new book Super Natural Every Day. I’ve changed a bunch of things: I omitted the tofu croutons since I rarely have tofu on  hand. I served it on rice to give it heft and make it a one-dish meal. I used green instead of red curry paste, onions instead of shallots and added lots of basil.

This recipe uses a good number of summer squash so it’s a great way to work through the stash many of us find ourselves with right now. It’s great warmed up the next day for lunch either eaten as soup or over rice. I can imagine this being delicious with other veggies as well as the season changes so experiment as you see fit. It would also be delicious with some chicken or prawns if you want to dress it up a bit and make it heartier.

And please let me know if you have any favorite summer squash/zucchini recipes. I know they’re going to keep showing up for a few more weeks and I always need more ideas.

Summer squash, potatoes, onions and garlic sweating in green curry paste and some coconut milk.

Green Curry Summer Squash Soup

–adapted from Super Natural Everyday by Heidi Swanson

4-5 medium zucchini or other summer squash like yellow crookneck or patty pan, sliced into 1/2 inch slices

1/2 a medium onions (sweet or regular yellow onion), thinly sliced

4-5 small potatoes (new potatoes if possible), scrubbed and cut into small dice

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 – 2 heaping teaspoons green curry paste (I use the Mae Ploy brand)

1 can full fat coconut milk

2 cups veggie bouillon broth (or other veggie or chicken stock)

1/4 cup Thai basil or regular basil leaves, packed and roughly chopped (saving a bit for garnish)

salt

squeeze of lime juice to taste (optional)

Cooked white or brown, long grain rice

Put a large soup pot on medium high heat. Add about 3-4 tablespoons of the solid part of the coconut milk that makes up about the top fourth of the can, to the hot pan. Add the 1-2 teaspoons (depending on how much heat you want) of green curry paste and mash it up with the back of a spoon and blend it into the coconut milk. Fry this mixture for a couple of minutes until it becomes fragrant.

Add the sliced onion and fry for a few minutes until it softens. Add the squash and potatoes, several generous pinches of salt and cook, stirring often for 3-4 minutes. Then add the garlic, the remainder of the coconut milk and the broth. Bring to a boil, then turn down and simmer for about 10 minutes until the vegetables are tender. Add most of the basil (reserving some for a garnish) and cook for another minute or two. Adjust seasoning and add a squeeze of lime juice, if using.

Serve hot over rice and garnished with more basil.

P.S. Check out my guest post on Culinate.com about Slow Food’s $5 Challenge and join in the fun and conversation and cooking.

Perfect Green Beans

Green beans (Kentucky Blue) from my garden.

I have a small garden with only a few places with really good, sunny exposure. I sow green pole beans every spring in one of those sunny places and every year I’m taken aback by how delicious they are. Once they start producing I pick them twice a day–first thing in the morning and just before it’s too dark to see. I only have about seven plants that have wound their way up their strings along my fence but I managed to pick about a pound over a four-day period.

Aioli with green beans.

My favorite thing to do with these tender things is to make aioli (garlicky mayonnaise) and dip the perfectly cooked beans (by which I mean four minutes in salty, rapidly bowling water) into the aioli. I ate three-quarters of a pound of the  beans pictured above in a single sitting Sunday noon. My boys got a few but they don’t rhapsodize about them quite like I do so everyone was happy.

I know I’ve written about aioli here before but here are some photos to go with it.

2 beautiful yolks, 2 cloves of garlic (much less than is traditional but I like a slightly milder aioli), and fresh lemon juice--the foundation for aioli.

You can use a mortar and pestle to mash the garlic with some coarse salt (gives it the texture you need to mash it well) or just do it on a cutting board with the side of a chef's knife as I've done here. Just chop the garlic cloves first, sprinkle generously with coarse salt and then lay the side of the knife on top of the garlic, push down and pull the knife (dull side) toward you. Repeat until you have a nice paste. It takes a little practice but once you have it down it's a quick way to get a good, homogenous paste.

The finished product. I added about 1/2 cup of good olive oil (drip by drip at first and then in a thin stream) and then about 1/3 of a cup of sunflower oil.

Sunday's lunch: beans and aioli, leftover rice with leftover salsa verde.

Aioli 

2 egg yolks (preferably organic)

2 medium/large cloves  garlic (or more if you like it stronger)

lemon juice (1/2 to a whole lemon’s worth depending on your taste)

coarse fleur de sel (or any good sea salt)

freshly ground pepper

1/2 – 3/4 cup good-tasting olive oil

1/3 cup neutral oil like sunflower

Mash garlic to a paste with salt (either in mortar and pestle or with a knife –see note above). Put garlic in a medium-sized bowl. Add the egg yolks and 2-3 teaspoons of lemon juice and some black pepper. Whisk well. Then start adding the olive oil drip by drip or in a very thin stream at first. You’ll need to incorporate about 1/4 cup of oil like this before you can safely speed things up. This is the most important step in ensuring that it properly emulsifies and doesn’t break. Incorporate the rest of the olive oil and neutral tasting oil (it can get too bitter if you use just olive oil, though this is a non-traditional approach but one I like) and adjust seasoning with more lemon and/or salt.

Happy Cooking and Eating!

P.S. I’ve posted fall classes. . . .Late Summer Bounty, Beans, Pies, Soups, Eat Better Series. . . .a little something for everyone I hope!

So Much Produce/So Little Time to Cook

The "granny CSA" or what I brought home from my mother's this weekend.

It’s not that I have SO little time to cook it’s that I am preserving or u-picking or really want to be outside while the sunshine lasts. It’s the time of year where I get almost overwhelmed with the beauty and bounty of the produce and get a little panicky that I won’t be able to take full advantage of all of it. And tomatoes, corn, peppers and eggplants haven’t even really hit here so what am I going to do next week, the week after?!

It’s a luxury problem and I am grateful for the bounty.  And I am grateful for my mother who grows so much of it. We spent less than 24 hours at my mother’s this weekend principally so my husband could make pickles with my mother. My husband is not a pickle fan but loves her bread & butter pickles from the Joy of Cooking she’s been making for 30 years (here’s a similar recipe).

Brian's second batch of bread and butter pickles.

The top photo shows only some of the loot I brought home. Not shown are three quarts of Marion Berries that I turned into Marion Berry, peach, vanilla jam (instead of planning my fall classes which I am determined to do this week!).

And the first of the Transparent apples are ripening here in the Willamette Valley and my son ate all three of those little things plus a lemon cucumber, which “one can eat like an apple but it doesn’t even have a core!” he gleefully discovered.

First, rather tart Transparent apples of the season.

And here’s all the garlic she grew this year.

Garlic harvest

And take note of the basket it’s in. The handle is completely duct-taped and the rim is reinforced with some ribbon. These are the kind of things that drove me crazy as a teenager. My parents hung onto everything. . . product-life-extension, as my older brother calls it. Now it doesn’t drive me crazy. Now I realize just how spot-on her priorities are. Grow the garlic, forget about a new basket. Who has time for that?

Happy Cooking and Eating!

P.S. With the beets (from the Granny CSA) I made this. I’ll be making this with the parsley, and I made a wine-braised cabbage dish with the green cabbage that was quite good:  1 cup of leftover cheap rose (would be better with a dry white wine I think); some finely chopped rosemary, 1/2 an onion, 1 tomato, diced, and salt and pepper.

Mid-Summer Pizza

Thinly sliced zucchini rounds cook really quickly on a pizza and make for a surprisingly delicious topping.

I love pizza. I teach pizza classes, I go out for pizza but I actually don’t make pizza often enough at home. I make a good pizza dough (Jim Lahey’s recipe from My Bread, my slightly adapted version included below) and sometimes I’m even organized enough to make several batches and freeze the dough so it’s available when I have little time to cook. . . .but not very often.  So when I heard that the local Grand Central Bakery pizza dough was reportedly better than anything I might make myself, I had to give it a try. I bought both the whole wheat and white versions and have yet to try to the white one but the whole wheat lived up to the hype. For the many of you who do not live close to a Grand Central Bakery outpost, the below recipe is really very good and you might check your local bakeries for pre-made doughs. (I have no vested interest in Grand Central but worked there 14 years ago as my first job out of college and have a great fondness for them and their products.)

And if you have good pizza dough, the topping is practically an afterthought. Almost anything tastes good on a yeasted dough that’s baked on a stone in a hot, hot oven. I set my very basic, non-commercial gas oven to 500 (as high as it goes) and preheat it with the pizza stone in it for 30 minutes or so and then slide the dough with whatever topping I’ve thrown together onto the stone. 15- 20 minutes later dinner is done.

Last night  I found a few zucchini in the fridge, half a Walla Walla Sweet, and a bit of bacon. I thinly sliced the squash and sprinkled salt on them and let them sit on a dish towel for 10 minutes to soften up while I prepped the rest of the ingredients.

Sliced sweet onions, diced bacon and zucchini coins

Since my husband is not fond of raw onions and I wasn’t sure just how soft the onions would get in the 15 minutes in the oven I decided to saute half the onions and bacon for just a few minutes to take the edge off.

Pizza about to go in the oven; half with raw onions and bacon and half with briefly sauteed onions and bacon.

I squeezed some liquid out of the zucchini slices and then brushed the dough (that was incredibly easy to stretch and shape) with olive oil, sprinkled it with salt and then scattered on the squash, onions, bacon and just a little grated parmesan. I had generously floured the pizza peel (don’t forget this step) and slid the whole thing with a quick jerk of the wrist onto the hot stone.

Done!

I loved both sides of the pizza as did my husband and son (though he insisted on scraping the topping off and eating it separately). The sauteed side was a bit sweeter but the Walla Walla’s are so tender and mild and kept their shape a bit better lending more texture to that side. So, a toss up, really!

Chances are whatever you have in your garden or from the market will make a good pizza topping. And if you don’t want to use meat here I would add a generous sprinkling of fresh basil and/or oregano and a bit more cheese (maybe feta too).  Generally my pizza advice is go light on the topping (with or without sauce), be generous with herbs and spices and most importantly, make pizza often this summer.

Happy Cooking and Eating!

P.S. New summer and fall Cook-with-what-I-have Improv Classes posted.

Basic Pizza Dough

–adapted from Jim Lahey

Pizza dough freezes beautifully. So if you’re only going to use half of it or want to make a double batch and save some for future use, just lightly oil a 1 qt freezer bag and put ½ a recipe worth of pizza dough in. Thaw it thoroughly and bring it to room temperature before using. Then handle exactly the same as fresh dough.

In Jim Lahey’s original recipe he has you bake the pizzas on a sheet pan. I do that sometimes, especially for his potato pizza because there’s so much topping, but usually I bake them right on a pizza stone which makes them wonderfully crisp. If you’re using a pizza stone you don’t need any oil and just place the stretched out piece of dough onto a well-floured pizza peel (or the back of a cookie sheet if you don’t have a peel) and after you’ve added the toppings you slide it right onto the hot stone.

I have tried this recipe with half whole wheat flour and half white. It turns out fine but is a bit of a different animal—not as crisp a bit nuttier and chewier—as you might expect.

500 grams bread flour (3 3/4 cups)

2 1/2 teaspoons instant or active dry yeast (10 grams)

3/4 teaspoons table salt (5 grams)

3/4 teaspoon sugar, plus a pinch (about 3 grams)

1 1/3 – 1 1/2 cups room temperature water

extra-virgin olive oil for pans

In a medium bowl, stir together the bread flour, yeast, salt and sugar. Add the water and, using a wooden spoon or your hand, mix until blended, at least 30 seconds. The dough should be able to contain all of the flour, if it seems dry or if there is excess flour at the bottom of the bowl, add water a tablespoon at a time.

Cover the bowl with a tea towel and let sit at room temperature until the dough has doubled in volume, about 2-3 hours.