Posts filed under ‘garden’

Tomatoes, tomatoes, tomatoes

Ripening tomatoesI haven’t quite reached the point where I have so many ripe tomatoes that I need to start cooking them, or to where I’m bored with the basics (BLTs!), but I’m getting 3-4 ripe ones a day out of my modest garden, and I know some of you have a lot more.

So here’s a quick rundown on some great things to do with “excess” tomatoes while they’re ripe and ready to eat. I’m going to link to other people’s recipes, because (a) I’m feeling lazy and (b) it’s almost time for dinner, which will include a helping of …

Tuscan Bread Salad. This is a late-summer staple at my house, and it’s not bad in the winter made with good-quality canned tomatoes, well-drained. There are lots of variations on the recipe, many of which call for soaking the bread till it gets mooshy. I prefer it this way, sometimes substituting balsamic vinegar for red-wine vinegar and I like to use rustic whole-grain bread. Add some chopped cucumber if you like, or even canned tuna to make the dish a meal. Fast, easy and absolutely delicious.

Roasted Vegetable Ratatouille – Classic ratatouille is a vegetable stew; I prefer this version, which roasts the vegetables and then combines them in a rich, smoky-sweet dish. The tomatoes and eggplant are central; everything else is optional, and you can experiment with adding mushrooms, pearl onions and other seasonal veggies.

Grilled Heirloom Tomato and Mozarella Sandwiches with Green Tomato Gazpacho – I stumbled onto this a while back and it’s a great new harvest-season take on good old grilled cheese and tomato soup. Make one, the other or both, depending on how many tomatoes you’re blessed with.

And then there’s the Easiest Pasta Dish in the World: Chop up some room-temperature tomatoes. Add fresh basil, a little salt and a drizzle of olive oil. Cook the pasta of your choice and top with tomatoes. Cheese is optional.

September 12, 2010 at 5:19 pm Leave a comment

Harvest dinner: Fasolakia

FasoulakiaHarvest season is in full swing, and the only thing better than having my own garden right now is knowing other gardeners who planted things I didn’t get around to planting this year. Because it seems like all of us overestimated something, and food-swapping is happening all over the place. Last week I offloaded a bunch of cherry tomatoes and a half-dozen lemon cucumbers on some friends at work, and picked up a nice zucchini someone had left in the break room.

I love green beans, but my garden isn’t laid out well for growing them. The border along the backyard fence which once made a nice spot for pole beans is now fully occupied by raspberries (poor me). So it was great to hear that my friends Debra and Gary had too many green beans. I swung by their place on the way to run errands this morning, and they weren’t home to thank, but they’d left a nice big bag of them on the porch for me.

And I have tomatoes, finally. Quite a few tomatoes, in fact, having got through an early scare with blossom-end rot by side-dressing the plants with lime and keeping to a regular watering schedule.

In my kitchen, the coincidence of fresh green beans and ripe tomatoes  means one thing: Fasolakia.

This Greek dish is so easy – and so flavorful – that I can’t let a harvest season go by without making big pots of it. I always mean it as a side dish; I always eat the first big bowl all by itself.

Here’s my recipe, such as it is. It’s endlessly adaptable and forgiving, and you can adjust it to your tastes – or your harvest. Diced potatoes are traditional, some people like to add summer squash, and I change up the herbs depending on what’s thriving in my garden at the time. Heck, you can make it in the middle of winter with frozen green beans and canned tomatoes if you like. But try it with fresh, while the season is high. Trust me on this.

Fasoulakia

Ingredients

  • Olive oil
  • One medium onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 pound of fresh green beans (or more, or less), stringed if they need it, cut into bite-sized lengths
  • Minced garlic (you know how much you like. I use at least 3-4 big cloves)
  • 1 pound of ripe tomatoes, cut in chunks. If you want it to look prettier, I suppose you could peel them (dip the fruit briefly in boiling water and the skins will come right off), but the skins add a lot of flavor and good nutrients.
  • A big handful of fresh Italian parsley, chopped
  • A generous amount of oregano and thyme. Dried is OK. Fresh – at least a tablespoon of each, minced – is better. If you prefer other herbs – basil, for instance – go for it.
  • Generous grinding of black pepper

Method

Pour some olive oil into a large, heavy-bottomed skillet – enough to coat the bottom; more if you like (the traditional Greek recipe often calls for up to a cup of oil!). Heat to medium and toss in the onions, cooking until they begin to soften.

Add the green beans and garlic; stir to coat with oil and cook for 10  minutes to give them a head start.

Add remaining ingredients, bring it all to a boil, and then lower the heat and simmer away, stirring occasionally. After about 20 minutes total cooking time, check beans for tenderness; continue cooking until they’re quite soft but not mushy. (Note that the traditional Greek dish, which uses much more olive oil and often substitutes canned tomatoes or tomato puree for fresh, turns out quite soupy; this doesn’t, but the flavors are startlingly good).

Serve hot or lukewarm – or even chilled (that’s how I usually eat the leftovers). Great with grilled lamb, pork or sausages or all by itself. Got vegans to feed? Feed them this!

How many does it serve? That depends on whether you’re serving it as a side dish or main course, but this amount could satisfy 3-4 people – or 2 really hungry ones – eaten all by itself.

August 28, 2010 at 7:15 pm 1 comment

It’s been far too long

Crab cakes!… since I posted anything here. But the season of local food is ramping up, and this was so very, very good that I need to share.

Scott Penter was back at the Albany Farmers’ Market yesterday with his traveling chiller and a load of fresh-caught Dungeness crab. After getting his feet wet, so to speak, at last summer’s market, he opened a small business called – aptly enough – Seafood Outlet, off Highway 34 east of Corvallis. It’s evidently been successful enough to make this young fisherman-entrepreneur commit to continuing to try to sell his products inland, because he’s branched out to the Corvallis Farmers’ Market this season, too.

After stopping by to chat with him, I couldn’t leave without buying a crab; he fished me out a nice, vigorous 3-pounder, to the slightly squeamish delight oif a couple of kids who were watching (they were fascinated by the crab once it was bagged up, but ran squealing when Scott tried to show them another up close).

The first best thing to do with Dungeness crab, in my opinion, is just kill it, cook it and eat it, with a little lemon butter for dipping, some good bread to mop up the buttery juices and maybe a nice crisp white wine. That’s just what I did last night, but I could only manage half the crab.

The rest went in the fridge, and tonight I pulled it out, picked all the meat from the shell, and made a batch of tender, crispy  cakes, using a recipe that guarantees you’ll taste more crab than “cake.”

Crispy crab cakes

Ingredients

  • 2 large eggs
  • a handful of fresh Italian parsley, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons dry mustard
  • 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp finely minced lemon zest
  • 1 pound cooked Dungeness crab meat, carefully picked from the shell to avoid fragments
  • 1 cup Panko crumbs, divided in half
  • Neutral-flavored  oil and butter for frying
  • Wasabi mayonnaise (optional: Just stir a teaspoon or so of prepared wasabi into a couple of tablespoons of mayonnaise) or aioli.
  • Method:

    In a medium bowl, beat the eggs with a fork. Blend in the parsley, Worcestershire sauce, dry mustard, lemon juice and lemon zest until well combined. Gently fold in the crabmeat and mix well, then add 1/2 cup of Panko crumbs and fold just until mixed. The mixture will be pretty wet.

    Heat the oil and butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat.

    Dump the rest of the Panko into a shallow bowl. Using a couple of large spoons, scoop up the crab mixture and form it into patties; dredge in the Panko. If it falls apart, just press it back together. Slide into the hot oil with a slotted spoon, pressing down to flatten the cakes slightly. You’ll wind up with 6-8 cakes, depending on how large you make them.

    Cook until crisp and brown, turn, repeat to cook the tops.

    Drain on paper towels, and serve with a dollop of wasabi mayo, aioli or just a squeeze of lemon.

    Makes two servings. If, like me, you’re eating alone, save the rest for tomorrow’s lunch!

    I had to have a salad with my crab cakes, because my garden is suddenly producing so much leaf lettuce that I must eat salad daily (poor me!). Since I knew I’d be taking pictures, I framed the crab cakes with the salad, which is so tender and fresh it doesn’t need a dressing at all. Pretty, and delicious.

    Except for the grape tomatoes, the Panko crumbs, the oil and the condiments, everything on my table tonight came from within about 60 miles of home. I like that.

    May 9, 2010 at 8:09 pm Leave a comment

    The last of the tomatoes

    The last of the harvest

    Green tomatoes

    Last weekend, belatedly, I found time to get out to the garden and strip the last tomatoes from the vines. For all my complaining about the late ripening – and for all my desultory gardening habits – it was a good year for tomatoes; once they finally got around to ripening, my six heirloom plants kept me in ripe tomatoes for nearly two months before they succumbed to the advancing autumn. Lots of BLTs, salads, and just plain sun-ripened, sliced tomatoes, and a few interesting experiments in stuffing the Pepper Tom variety (a tomato that ripens like a bell pepper, with sturdy outer walls and an almost-hollow center.

    Two weeks ago, a surplus of very ripe tomatoes heading toward over-ripe prompted me to make a couple of pans of my infamous Tomato Goo: tomatoes, onion and garlic, flavored with the last of the basil from my herb garden, slow-roasted until nearly all the liquid is gone and shoveled into serving-sized freezer bags for the winter.

    This week it was time to deal with the remaining, unripe tomatoes. In other years, I’ve wrapped them lovingly in newspaper, put them in a box and set them down in the cool of my unheated basement/garage; stored that way, unblemished tomatoes will continue to ripen right into winter, a few at a time. I’ve had ripe tomatoes for Christmas, some years. Not quite as luscious as sun-ripened, but miles better than anything you can buy in a supermarket.

    This year’s green tomato harvest was modest, though, with lots of smallish fruit, so I decided to deal with them immediately, and make food for what promises to be a busy weekend: A green tomato salsa, and a delicious tart-and-savory curried tomato soup.

    Does anyone invent recipes from thin air? I rarely do. Rather, I read cookbooks (and other people’s foodblogs) avidly, consider what ingredients I have on hand and what flavors I like together, and improvise, taking notes as I go. What results may or may not be recognizable as the original recipe.

    That’s almost certainly true of this soup, which started out as a found-on-the-Internet recipe for a chilled summer soup. The basic elements are still there – green tomatoes, potatoes, loads of onion and garlic, curry powder – but I wanted a something warm and hearty for fall. The original called for lots of cilantro and mint; I don’t much like cilantro, but I still had lots of aromatic basil on hand, and my Italian parsley is coming back strong after the summer bolt. The original directed me to peel the tomatoes and potatoes – not a bad idea if you buy them from the supermarket, to eliminate pesticide residues, but mine were grown organically, and there’s a lot of nutrition in those peels, so I left them on. It also called for sugar – rather a lot of it – to balance the tartness of the tomatoes. Why cook with sugar when you’ve got a couple of nice, sweet-tart heirloom apples on hand? And so it went, an adjustment here, another there, until my soup barely resembles the original at all. You can do the same, and make the recipe your own.

    Curried green tomato soup

    Curried Green Tomato Soup

    Curried Green Tomato Soup
    (Makes 4-6 servings)

    Ingredients:

    • 1 Tbsp olive oil
    • 3-6 garlic cloves, minced
    • 1 medium union, finely chopped
    • 1 Tbsp good curry powder
    • 1 large (or 2 medium) potatoes, cubed
    • 2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
    • 2 cups chopped green tomatoes (4-6 large tomatoes or a bunch of small ones
    • 1 large (or 2 small) apples, cored and chopped
    • 1/2 cup chopped fresh basil
    • 2 Tbsp chopped fresh Italian parlsey
    • 1/2 cup heavy cream
    • salt and pepper to taste
    • Additional parsley and curry powder for garnish

    In a large saucepan, heat olive oil over medium-low heat. Add garlic, onion and curry powder. Cook, stirring often, until onion begins to soften, about five minutes. Add potatoes, stir to blend, and brown slightly. Add stock. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes until potatoes are tender.

    Stir in the tomatoes, apple, basil and parsley; cover, and continue simmering for 10-15 minutes more.

    Remove from heat and use a wand blender or food processor to blend until fairly smooth. If you want a silky soup free of bits of peel, pass it through a coarse strainer and return to burner if necessary to reheat. I didn’t bother; the peel is tender and adds some texture. Stir in cream. Taste; add salt and pepper if you like.

    To serve, ladle into bowls, and garnish with a drizzle of cream, a sprinkle of curry powder and a sprig of parsley. Serve hot.


    Even easier:

     

    Green tomato salsa

    Green Tomato Salsa

    Green Tomato salsa
    Makes 3-4 cups

    Ingredients (measurements are approximate and not critical. Use what you have):

    • 1 pound green tomatoes
    • 1-2 ripe tomatoes
    • 1 seranno (or other) pepper, minced (seeds and all); use two if you like your salsa fiery
    • 1/4 tsp cayenne (or more, as above)
    • 1 small onion
    • 3 cloves garlic
    • Juice of 1/2 lime
    • 1-2 tsp salt, to taste

    Cut the fruits/vegetables into chunks; mince the chiles. Dump everything but the salt into a food processor and pulse until it’s chopped fine, but not pureed. Taste, correct seasoning. Transfer to a lidded bowl and allow to ripen at room temperature for an hour or so, then refrigerate. Keeps several days in the fridge.

    Besides making a great dipping salsa (I like it with flour tortilla chips, but use what you prefer), this stuff would be fabulous with fresh seafood…


    Oven Roasted Tomatoes (aka Tomato Goo)

     

    A method. Make as much or as little as you like. I often make two pans at once, rotating them between the upper and lower shelves of my oven a couple of times during the cooking.

    Ingredients:

    Per batch:

    • 8-10 Garden-ripe tomatoes, quartered (cut off any green stem bits and or bad spots)
    • 1 medium onion, peeled cut in wedges
    • One head of garlic, separated into cloves, peeled and slightly crushed with the flat of a knife
    • A generous handful of fresh basil
    • 1 Tbsp olive oil

    Preheat oven to 250F. In a large roasting pan, spread the tomatoes, onion and garlic in a single layer. Scatter with basil and drizzle with olive oil.

    Roast in oven for 2-4 hours or longer*, stirring every half hour or so, until almost all of the liquid is gone, the onion and garlic have caramelized and the tomatoes have taken on a deep red hue. Cool; spoon into serving-sized freezer bags, squeeze out the excess air and freeze.

    * If your tomatoes are especially juicy, or you pack too many into the pan, it can take an entire afternoon to reduce the liquid down. This is a fine project for a lazy fall afternoon, and will fill your whole house with the aromas of tomato, onion and garlic.

    The result is a frozen slab of a rich, chunky paste/sauce, slightly sweet from the caramelized onion and garlic and with the same intense flavor as sun-dried tomatoes. Thaw to use, or simply cut off frozen chunks. Use as a basis for a home-made tomato sauce, toss it with pasta, spread it on toasted Italian bread rounds, add it by the spoonful to home-made soups and stews – anywhere you want a jolt of garden tomato in the deep of winter. Best. Stuff. Ever.

    October 17, 2008 at 12:37 pm 1 comment

    Summer stir-fry

    Stir-fried shrimp and summer vegetables

    Shrimp, globe zucchini, green beans

    Stir-fry is a fall-back meal for many Americans: Slice up some vegetables and maybe some meat, throw it in a wok or skillet, douse it with “stir-fry sauce” (sometimes from a bottle) and, hey, instant food.

    Lately I’ve been reminded that authentic Chinese or Japanese stir-fry, while not much more complex than that, uses specific cooking techniques that can result in amazingly fresh-tasting dishes that retain the flavors of each ingredient while marrying them with just the slightest amount of subtle, savory sauce.

    The stir-fry I made tonight is not my own; I owe it directly to Steamy Kitchen, a terrific “modern Asian” foodblog. The techniques she uses are classic, the flavors bright and fresh, and the presentation downright gorgeous.

    Shrimp and Zucchini Stirfry with Crispy Basil

    I won’t repeat the recipe here, except to say that I used my wok for the whole thing, flash-frying the basil in a couple of inches of peanut oil, then turning the burner off and letting it cool down before draining most of the oil (now pale green and scented with basil) into a container for later use. I also had some green beans I wanted to use up, so I cut them in two-inch lengths, steamed them in the microwave (in a Pyrex dish with a few drops of water, covered with plastic wrap) till crisp-tender, then tossed them with a little hoisin sauce, and added them to the stir fry at the same time the shrimp was returned to the pan.

    Two things about that recipe that bear noting: The shrimp, marinated in the slightest amount of cornstarch, sesame oil and salt, are cooked briefly first on one side, then the other, rather than tossed around in the wok as many stir-fry ingredients are.  Second, the sauce – soy sauce, sesame oil, sugar – is also made in a very small quantity. Less really is more here; dumping in lots of sauce results in a dish that’s steamed and soupy, while using less than a tablespoon, as in this recipe, coats the shrimp and vegetables with just a gloss of flavor, and leaves them crisp and fresh.

    Globe zucchini, chiles, and green beans came from the farmers’ market; basil and garlic came from my own garden.

    August 17, 2008 at 7:35 pm Leave a comment

    Growing your own

    Early harvest

    Early harvest: Tomatoes, basil, mint, garlic

    Tonight’s dinner is as simple as can be: Three plum tomatoes, sliced, tossed with minced basil and garlic and dressed with a gloss of olive oil and the slightest sprinkling of salt. A piece of locally baked (Great Harvest) whole-grain bread with good Tillamook butter. A glass of crisp, honey-scented pinot gris from Elk Cove winery, just up the valley in Gaston.

    A light meal, but one of great significance, because those tomatoes are the very first ones to ripen in this year’s garden.

    I’ve been eating from the garden for over a month now, mostly raspberries and container-grown strawberries that just won’t quit bearing. The herbs, planted in an assortment of containers, are going like gangbusters this season, too. I’ve just finished drying the garlic I planted last fall.

    But it’s the tomatoes that make me feel like a Real Gardener, even though my habits are less than diligent and my ambitions modest. After a disappointing season last summer, this year’s tomatoes – six plants, each a different heirloom variety – are starting to produce what looks like it could be a bumper crop. Helped, no doubt, by the fact that my neighbor let me remove a limb from his big-leaf maple that had gradually turned my full-sun raised bed into a morning-sun-only spot.

    Now that the sun is back, the tomatoes are going nuts. I’m already eyeballing the beefsteak-style varieties, green though they still are, with visions of tomato sandwiches dancing in my head.

    July 29, 2008 at 7:10 pm Leave a comment


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