Posts filed under ‘challenge’

Substantial summer salads

Tuscan Bread Salad

Tuscan Bread Salad

Wouldn’t you know it: The mood for salad struck this week, just as the hot spell finally broke and we got some rain? Where were my salad cravings when it was 100 degrees in my kitchen? As wilted as the greens in my refrigerator, I guess.

No matter. The salads I’m interested in this week are more than just greens-and-crunchy-stuff, they’re salad-as-a-meal, complex and flavorful but not the least bit difficult to make. And they use a lot of the same ingredients, but with quite different results. One brings back memories of my daughter-of-a-Southern-mother childhood; the other is a tradition from an entirely different part of the world. They’re both delicious – and they both benefit from an overnight stay in the refrigerator to let the flavors meld.

Tuscan Bread Salad

Ingredients

  • 2 cups hearty bread*, cut or torn into bite-sided cubes. You want bread of substance for this, and you want it a little stale; I used the heel end of a round sourdough loaf I bought at the farmers’ market last weekend; whole-grain bread is also wonderful.
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 small cucumber, or a couple of lemon cucumbers*, scrubbed, peeled (if the peel is tough, otherwise don’t bother) and cut in chunks
  • 2 medium ripe tomatoes*, cut in chunks, or several little tomatoes, halved. I used small BlackPlums from my garden
  • 1/2 small onion, chopped*
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/8 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tsp capers (optional)
  • 2-3 Tbsp fresh basil*, coarsely chopped and then rubbed between your hands to release the aromas
  • salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • Fresh greens*
  • Pecorino romano cheese

Method:

Preheat oven to 350F. Toss the bread with 1 Tbsp olive oil, lay it out in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake for 15-20 minutes, turning once, until the bread is toasty brown and fairly hard. Cool.

In a medium bowl, combine the bread, tomatoes, cucumbers and onion. In a small bowl, whisk together olive oil, vinegar, capers and basil. Pour over the bread mixture and toss well to coat. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight to let the bread soak most of the liquid.

Before serving, correct seasoning if necessary. Dress plates with a bed of washed, torn greens, top with a generous portion of bread salad and use a vegetable peeler to shave a few curls of Pecorino romano cheese on top.

Serves two, generously (or one, with plenty left for the next day’s lunch). If you’re the sort of person who insists on protein at every meal, this is also very good with drained albacore tuna mixed in just before serving.

Black-eyed Pea Salad

Roast pork tenderloin with black-eyed pea salad

Black-Eyed Pea Salad with Roast Pork

I know, I know: People who didn’t grow up with black-eyed peas sometimes find them a little off-putting. An ex of mine once sampled my traditional mom’s-recipe New Year’s Eve black-eyed peas, grimaced and muttered, “Tastes like dirt.” I can’t argue with that – but to my mouth, that’s “earthy,” and it’s a great flavor, especially when the beans are cooked from scratch instead of dumped out of a can. Now, normally, I automatically throw a chunk of salt pork or (when I can find it) ham hock in with black-eyed peas. This salad is so flavorful, though, it can do without (vegetarians take note). And while I’m having it as a dinner side dish tonight, I plan to eat it again for lunch tomorrow, all by itself, and quite possibly dinner tomorrow night, too. It’s that good.

Ingredients

  • 4 cups cooked black-eyed peas (or 2 cans, if you must, or an equivalent amount of frozen black-eyed peas.)
  • 2 large tomatoes* (or an equivalent in smaller ones), chopped
  • 1 large cucumber* (or 2-3 lemon cucumbers), peeled if necessary and chopped
  • 1/2 medium onion*, finely chopped
  • A fistful of fresh Italian parsley*, coarsely chopped
  • 2 Tbsp fresh basil*, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp fresh thyme*, chopped
  • 2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1-2 small hot peppers*, seeded and diced (I dipped into my endless supply of little red chiles of unknown provenance, provided by a friend who grows them in vast quantities)
  • 3/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup cider vinegar
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • salt and black pepper to taste

Method

Cool and drain the cooked beans; if you’re using canned ones, rinse them to get rid of the liquid from the can, which is kind of nasty. If frozen, thaw them in the microwave, rinse and cool.

In a large bowl, combine the beans, tomatoes, cucumber and onions. Add the herbs and toss thoroughly to mix.

In a small bowl, combine garlic, peppers, olive oil, vinegar and sugar and whisk well to blend. Pour over the bean mixture, and toss until the beans are well-coated with dressing. Taste; add salt and pepper if necessary. Cover and chill for several hours or overnight. Serve with cornbread for a complete-protein vegetarian meal, or as an accompaniment to roasted pork tenderloin (rub a small, lean tenderloin with olive oil, pat on a mixture of paprika, dry mustard powder, cayenne and a little salt, and roast at 450F for about 20 minutes, until a meat thermometer registers 150 degrees. Remove from oven, cover with foil and let sit for 10 minutes or so to firm up before slicing on the diagonal into medallion.)

Makes 4-6 servings, and it’s a great potluck dish, too!

* Local ingredients, from the Albany farmers’ market or my garden

August 20, 2008 at 7:18 pm Leave a comment

Zucchini: Threat or menace?

Summer squash

Still life with summer squash

I knew I shouldn’t have bought zucchini at the market last weekend. Because once the zucchini harvest begins, buying it seems redundant. Zucchini grows like a weed around here; people whose tomato crops fail, whose lettuce and peas get decimated by slugs, who proclaim themselves to be possessed of Black Thumbs – everyone grows zucchini. While its season lasts, I hardly dare leave the house for risk of coming home to find I’ve been the victim of a drive-by zucchini drop-off.

Sure enough, my friend Sandy, whose garden never fails to produce an overabundance of everything, stopped by the office this afternoon to bring me some zucchini.

To her credit, she called ahead. More to her credit, she’s growing my favorite cultivar: globe zucchini, aka “Eight-ball” or “Cannonball” zucchini.

Spherical, rather than elongated, globe zucchini have much to recommend them. The flesh tends to be a little more firm and a little less watery when cooked – and while they can be cut up and used like any other summer squash, they also lend themselves beautifully to stuffing. Just slice a bit off the stem and blossom ends to stabilize them, slice them in half, scoop out the seedy part and then fill with whatever pre-cooked filling you like. Pop it in the oven for half an hour and you have a tasty, light supper in an edible bowl. Yum.

Unfortunately, globe zucchini are hard to find in the markets, and almost never seen in supermarkets. If you happen onto some, give them a try. Or grow your own – just don’t plant too many. I’ve found that a single plant, well fertilized and watered, can produce enough zucchini that I, too, have resorted to drive-bys.

Stuffed globe zucchini, Italian style

Serves 2

  • 2 small-to-medium-sized globe zucchini*. Choose squash with tender skins.
  • Bulk Italian sausage*, cooked and crumbled, about 1/2 cup
  • Olive oil
  • 1 tsp minced fresh oregano*
  • 1 tbsp. minced fresh basil*
  • A thick slice of sweet onion, minced*
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced*
  • 1-2 Tbsp bread crumbs (I toasted a slice of multi-grain bread and tore it losely into crumbs)
  • A half dozen good-sized shiitake mushrooms*, chopped
  • Grated Parmesan or Romano cheese

* Indicates local ingredients, either from the farmers’ market, from my garden or from a friend’s

Stuffed zucchini

Baked zucchini with extra stuffing

Preheat oven to 350F. Wash the zucchini. Remove a thin slice from the blossom and stem ends so the squash will sit flat in the baking dish. Cut in half and use a spoon to scoopy out the seedy middle, being careful not to break through the bottom. Place the zucchini halves in a baking dish and rub cut edges with olive oil.

In a small skillet, cook the sausage; remove it from the pan, drain off all but a small amount of fat and add a tablespoon or so of olive oil. Throw in the onions, garlic, mushrooms and herbs, and cook until soft.

Remove from heat. Stir in the bread crumbs. Taste and season with salt and pepper if necessary (it shouldn’t be).

Spoon filling into the halved zucchini, mounding slightly. If there’s some left, add it to the baking dish. Sprinkle parmesan on top.

Bake for 20 minutes, or until the zucchini is fork-tender and the cheese is browned. Serve hot.

You could easily make this a vegetarian dish by omitting the sausage and increasing the mushrooms, or using one of those vegetarian sausage substitutes, if you like that sort of thing.

For that matter, you can substitute almost any filling you like, as long as it’s pre-cooked (the perfect cooking time for the squash is too short for most fillings) and not too wet (because you don’t want the whole thing to collapse into a sodden lump). Thanksgiving-style stuffings are great, as are the sorts of rice-based stuffings normally used to fill cabbages or grape-leaves.

Please note: As much as I love this dish, I don’t need any more zucchini. Really.

July 21, 2008 at 8:58 pm 1 comment

Beets and carrots and herbs, oh my

Roasted beets and carrots

Roasted beet and carrot salad

Friends in warmer climates are telling me about their home-grown tomatoes. I put my fingers in my ears and console myself with the thought that our tomatoes will be along in their own good time – and that, meanwhile, there’s plenty of other flavorful produce showing up at the market.

This week I steered clear of the berries (well, almost. One pint of blueberries doesn’t count, does it?) in favor of vegetables: Carrots, shelling peas, cucumber, zucchini and a big bunch of mixed beets, red and golden and a pretty stripey red-and-white stripe variety.

I love root vegetables, and beets and carrots are never better than when they’re young and tender, full of sweet, earthy flavor. I love to roast them together, and just a little extra effort can make the difference between a nice mess of roasted vegetables and a terrific dish that highlights the subtle differences in the two vegetables flavors.

Beets, even young ones, take longer to roast than carrots. So why not take advantage of that fact and treat each vegetable a little differently, even when you roast them in the same pan?

Roasted beets and carrots with herbs

Ingredients:

  • A mixture of red and golden beets (I used six medium-sized beets), scribbed, trimmed and cut in half
  • 1 Tbsp Olive oil
  • Sea salt
  • Fresh thyme, finely minced
  • 4-5 medium-sized carrots, scrubbed, trimmed and cut in roughly equal-sized pieces
  • 1 tsp balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tsp maple syrup
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds

Method:

Preheat oven to 400F.

In a bowl, toss beets with olive oil. Spoon them out, leaving excess oil in the bowl. Place in one layer at one end of a roasting pan and sprinkle lightly with salt; scatter a few sprigs of thyme among them. Place roasting pan in oven. 15 minutes into cooking, use a slotted spoon to turn the beets.

Meanwhile, add carrots, vinegar, maple syrup and cumin to the bowl and toss well.

When the beets have been in the oven 30 minutes, add the carrots at the other end of the pan. Continue roasting for 15-20 minutes more, stirring once to turn, until tender and lightly caramelized.

Remove from oven and allow to cool slightly so you can slip the skins off the beets without burning yourself. Serve warm as a side dish, or, as I did, allow the vegetables to cool to room temperature, slice them into bite-sized pieces and serve them on a bed of lettuce with a little blue cheese, some toasted hazlenuts and a light vinaigrette incorporating a touch more thyme.

If you don’t have the time or energy to bother with roasting them, young beets and carrots are also splendid raw, grated or sliced paper-thin, and added to a salad or slaw – or just tossed with a little Meyer lemon juice, sprinkled lightly with salt and heaped on a plate as a crunchy, vivid savory.

July 20, 2008 at 7:48 pm Leave a comment

Off my feed

Blueberries

Mmmm, blueberries

It happens every summer, and at the most inconvenient time: When we hit the prolonged hot weather, I lose my appetite. Or at least my appetite for anything resembling cooking and eating actual meals.

That doesn’t mean I’m slacking on the Eat Local Challenge, though. Not now, when the variety of good things at market and farmstands increases almost by the day. It just means I buy things that can be eaten as is, or very simply prepared.

So far this week, for instance, I’ve had the following “meals,” all tasty and satisfying, but hardly worth photographing or writing down:

  • Scrambled duck eggs with red chard, smoked Oregon chinook and paper-thin slices of leek
  • More chard, coarsely chopped, steamed, and dressed with a dab of butter and a splash of sherry vinegar
  • Blueberries, just rinsed and eaten by the handful for breakfast or snacks.
  • A big salad of red leaf lettuce, still more chard (what can I say? I love chard, and I bought a big bunch of it at the market last Saturday), and baby spinach from a neighbor’s garden, tossed with a simple vinaigrette that included what are probably the last of the raspberries from my garden and a little home-grown basil.
  • A sort of rudimentary blueberry cobbler: Squares of poundcake (from Kristen’s bakery stand at the farmers market) tossed with blueberries and a teaspoon of sugar mixed with cinnamon, warmed in the oven just until the sugar began to caramelize, and topped with a scoop of Tillamook vanilla ice cream. As dinner, not dessert.
  • A Safeway bagel, topped with leaf lettuce, more of that smoked salmon, a little onion and Rogue Creamery’s Oregonzola blue cheese

Other than the condiments, that’s half a dozen meals of local or almost-local food, with hardly any effort at all. A light menu, to be sure, but I don’t move around much when it’s hot, so I don’t need much fuel.

How about you? What do you eat when it’s too hot to cook? If you’re trying the eat-local thing, is it working for you? What are the challenges?

July 16, 2008 at 7:41 pm 3 comments

Peas and turnips, late-spring style

Baby turnipsA cold, wet May caused setbacks for some local crops: Strawberry growers were struggling, for instance, until the sun came out last week, and some of our usual other late-spring crops have been slow to show up in the markets.

Sugar-snap peas, which love the cool and damp, are an exception: I’ve been buying and eating them weekly, mostly raw (three days last week the lunch I packed to work consisted of a big bag of peas and a dip made from Nancy’s plain yogurt and various dried herbs – yum!). I can’t get enough of these babies.

Speaking of babies: Saturday I got to the market late, but not too late to grab a couple of bunches of baby turnips. Like most “baby” vegetables, these aren’t early versions of regular turnips, they’re a Japanese variety bred for their small size and delicate flavor, and if you’re not fond of big turnips, don’t let that stop you from trying these. No bigger than golf balls, they’re crisp and mild enough to slice and eat raw – but they’re also lovely to cook with. It would be a waste to treat them like their winter cousins, boiled and mashed or thrown in with a pot roast. Like many early-season vegetables, they work best with quick cooking and simple preparations.

I ran across a recipe for baby turnips and peas that sounded delicious, but a little fiddly, what with the blanching and sauteeing. So instead, I combined the vegetables in a quick vegetable roast, and served them alongside smoked pork and home-made apple-and-quince sauce from the freezer. Fabulous.

Baby turnips and sugar-snap peasRoasted Baby Turnips and Sugar-snap Peas

Ingredients:

  • 1 bunch baby turnips
  • 1/2 cup whole sugar-snap pea pods
  • 4-5 garlic scapes* (optional)
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp dried herbs (I used a lemon-dill-garlic blend)
  • 1 tsp fresh lemon zest
  • Sea salt

Preheat oven to 375F.

Trim toff the turnip greens (and save them for another dish!), scrub turnips and pat them dry. Cut larger ones in half so all pieces are roughly the same size. Remove strings from peas if necessary. Cut garlic scape stems in half-inch lengths, leaving the bud and a bit of the curled stem. Toss everything in olive oil and herbs.

Put turnips on a baking sheet, and roast for five minutes. Then add peas and garlic scapes, sprinkle lightly with sea salt, and roast five minutes longer. Toss with lemon zest and serve.

Serves two as a side dish; if you increase the recipe, you probably won’t need more oil.

* Scapes are the flowering buds of plants in the allium family. Hardnecked garlic produces scapes that curl attractively and eventually straighten out to bloom; at the curled stage, they’re a tasty vegetable with a mild garlic flavor. I got mine from my garden, but you can often find them in the market. Try them lightly steamed, or in a stir-fry.

June 15, 2008 at 9:24 pm 2 comments


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