Posts filed under ‘summer’

Peach season

Perfect peachAhhhh, peaches.

The Willamette Valley is not a huge peach-growing region – the season is brief, the potential problems from weather and pests are many, the delicacy of the ripe fruit can make transporting it to and from the markets a challenge. But a few hardy growers make the effort, and when the time comes, I seek them out.

Jeannine and Tom  Thieme at Firstfruits Farm grow 22 varieties of peaches, and I’d be hard-pressed to say which are my favorites, other than “the ones they have at the farmers’ market now.” This week it was rosy Early Lorings and fragrant, white-fleshed Raritan Roses, and I bought a half-dozen of each.

The minute I got home I ate the first one, standing on the back porch, juice dripping down my chin and splattering my toes (really!). Then I turned half of the rest into a quick, easy peach salsa to take to a friend’s barbecue, where even a guy who professes not to like peaches gobbled it up with enthusiasm.

(My salsa was just diced peaches, a couple of diced lemon cucumbers, diced red onion, a few serrano peppers seeded and minced,  dressed with lime juice and a drizzle of honey. But really, you could substitute peaches for tomatoes in your favorite salsa recipe and not go wrong – although I’d use lime juice for any vinegar the recipe might call for).

Today, realizing that the ripe fruit would rapidly turn into overripe fruit if I didn’t do something with it, I made peach cobbler.

Google “peach cobbler” and you’ll find a gazillion recipes. Eliminate the ones based on canned peaches or pie filling (yuck), and you still have a lot to choose from. Some are more like what I’d call a crisp, a crumble or even a pandowdy.

I am a daughter of the South, though; the cobbler I learned at my mother’s knee was sweetened fruit encased in a rich Bisquick batter, tender at the core with a sugary crackle on top. And that’s the the sort of cobbler I still prefer.

Of course, I can’t leave well enough alone. For instance: I’m fond of the affinity peaches have for ginger. So today’s cobbler incorporates lots of ginger, in three forms. It’s terrific – sweet and peachy, with bursts of ginger zing. And I’ve greatly reduced the sugar from the 1-2 cups most cobbler recipes call for to just 1/2 cup, because really ripe peaches are plenty sweet on their own and I want them, not the sweetness of the dough, to star. If you have no local source for ripe peaches and must make do with what’s in the supermarket, you may need to ratchet the sugar back up a bit.

Triple Ginger Peach Cobbler

Cobbler ingredients

Ingredients

  • 4 cups fresh peaches, peeled* and sliced, set in a colander to drain off excess juice (reserve the juice)
  • 1/4 cup candied ginger, diced
  • 1 stick butter (1/2 cup)
  • 1 1/2 cups Bisquick
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • Enough milk to make 1 1/2 cups when combined with the juice from the peaches
  • A handful of ginger snaps, crushed to coarse crumbs (I used Trader Joe’s Triple Ginger Snaps because I had them on hand).

Method:

Preheat oven to 350F

Place a large baking dish on a cookie sheet (in case of spills). Place the butter in the bottom and stick it in the oven while you prepare the cobbler.

Combine drained fruit and candied ginger.

In another bowl, combine Bisquick, dried ginger, sugar, peach juice and milk. Stir well to get rid of any lumps.

When the butter is melted, remove baking dish from oven. Pour in the batter. Spoon the fruit-and-ginger on top (the batter will rise up through the fruit as it bakes).

Peach cobbler!Bake for 30 minutes, then sprinkle the crushed ginger snaps on top and bake for another 15 minutes. Test with a knife to make sure the batter is baked through (the knife won’t come out clean because of the peaches, but you should be able to tell if there’s any raw batter left in the middle. If so, give it another 10 minutes or so.)

Serve warm, with or without ice cream. Leftovers, should you have any, make an excellent breakfast.

* You know how to peel peaches, right? Fill a good-sized saucepan with water, bring to a boil and immerse the peaches for no more than 60 seconds. Remove from water with tongs or a slotted spoon, run under cold water and use your fingers to slip the skin right off.

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August 8, 2010 at 4:16 pm Leave a comment

Cherry pie from scratch

Pie!(Warning: This is a long post, because I’m indulging in some pastry-geeking. Don’t let that deter you. The pie itself took much less time to make than to write about.)

I’m the kind of cook who sees no contradition between a love of the home-made and a love of expedient shortcuts. I’d rather spend an hour making an excellent risotto with boxed stock from the supermarket than spend an entire weekend simmering, straining and clarifying  soup bones and trimmings for a measely quart of home-made.

Or pie: While I’m perfectly capable of making a tender, flaky crust from scratch – hell, I learned it at my mother’s knee – I also think frozen supermarket pie crusts are one of the small miracles of modern life; they let me throw together a tasty pie or quiche on a whim, or on a busy evening, without dragging out the flour and fat and rolling pins.

So I’m here to tell you: If you want to make this pie with a refrigerator-case crust-inna-box, you go right ahead. The food police won’t show up on your door, and whoever you’re feeding likely won’t know the difference if you don’t tell them.

ON THE OTHER HAND … this from-scratch crust, which I’ve made several times without failure,  is good. Really, really good. Good enough to be more than just a container for the tart, juicy local  pie cherries I got  this week; I crisped up the trimmings with a light sprinkle of sugar and can’t stop nibbling them.

What makes it good – what makes any pie crust good – is the combination of a light hand and nice, cold fat – in this case, pure lard and high-quality unsalted butter. Trust me, pie crust is not the place to cut corners on fat. Yeah, you can make a pie crust with Crisco or vegetable oil (or even olive oil). But it will never be as shatteringly crisp and flaky and flavorful as one made from honest-to-god animal fat. And while I’ve tried a crust that purported to be fat-free, it was also free of flavor and texture; it might as well have been cardboard. If you absolutely cannot have fat, then skip the crust, bake the filling in a naked pie pan and call it a baked fruit compote.

Butter and lardI happen to have a quantity of first-rate leaf lard (the delicate white fat from around a hog’s kidneys) in the freezer, frozen in half-cup portions. I will admit to having gone all pioneer woman this spring: I bought five pounds of fat from Heritage Farms Northwest, cut it into chunks and simmered it all one afternoon in my stock pot to render out the pure lard, just to see if I could. You don’t have to go that far; rendered, packaged lard is available in most supermarkets  in the cooler where they keep the butter. Try it, either alone or in combination with butter. You won’t believe how much better your pie crusts taste.

Why is that? Well, for one thing, lard is all fat, unlike butter, which has a fairly high water content; an all-butter crust will taste great, but it will probably be tough, too, unless you go for a pate brisee-style short crust where the fat is more evenly blended into the flour.

As the sainted Harold McGee explains it:

“The methods for making American-style pie dough produce a crust that is both tender and flaky. They disperse some of the fat evenly into the dough, separating small particles from each other, and some coarsely, separating different layers of the dough from each other … the dough is rested in the refrigerator to rechill the fat and let the water become more evenly distributed, and then is rolled out. The rolling stretches the dough and thus develops some gluten, and flattens the fat chunks into thin sheets. The combination creates the layered texture … In the oven, the sheets of fat, trapped air and steam from the dough water … all help to separate the dough into layers and give it a flaky texture.”

– Harold McGee, On Food and Cooking

The way my mom (and her mom, and generations of moms before them) achieved this was to use her fingertips to rub about half of the fat into the flour, and then two dinner knives to cut the rest into the mixture in pea-sized chunks. But mom was baking in a world without food processors. I use mine to achieve the same ends – and better, really, because the fat doesn’t get melted by the heat of my hands – by pulsing in half the butter and lard until the mixture resembles fine corn meal, then adding the rest and pulsing just a few times to chop the fat  into pea-sized chunks.

Here’s the pie I’m feeding my friends this afternoon. I rose early yesterday to make the crust before the house got hot, then spent a pleasant half-hour on the shady front porch pitting cherries with my cheap little mechanical pitter; everything went into the fridge, and then I baked the pie early this morning. The crust is based on a recipe I found on Epicurious.com for the “Best-Ever Pie Crust” and they aren’t exaggerating. The filling is one I’ve improvised over the years to the point where I don’t need a recipe to make it, but I took the time to note amounts, etc. this time around so you can recreate it – or add your own personal touch.

Cherry Pie to Die For

Crust

Ingredients

For two crusts

  • 2 1/2 cups pastry flour*
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp sugar (optional)
  • 1/2 cup chilled, unsalted butter, cut in cubes
  • 1/2 cup chilled lard, cut in cubes
  • 5 Tbsp ice water (or more, as needed)

Method

In a food processor, combine the flour, salt and sugar and pulse to blend. Begin feeding cubes of butter and lard into the processor, pulsing on-and-off until about half the fat is incorporated and the mixture is beginning to look like coarse cornmeal. Add the rest of the fat and pulse just a few times to cut it into pea-sized chunks. Don’t worry if it’s not perfectly distributed.

Dump the mixture into a bowl and, using a fork, begin to toss in the ice water a tablespoon at a time until the dough begins to clump together. Depending on the flour, the air temperature and the weather, it may take more than five tablespoons; if so, add more a teaspoon at a time; you want a dough you can form into a neat ball, but it shouldn’t be wet.

Divide dough in half, form into balls and flatten each half into a disk on a piece of plastic wrap. Wrap and refrigerate at least an hour (or up to three days in advance). If necessary, let rest at room temperature for a few minutes to soften before you roll it out.

Sprinkle a large cutting board or pastry cloth with a small amount of flour and roll each disk to about 1/8″ thickness.

Here’s a tip from Harold McGee: Let the dough rest for 20-15after rolling it out to allow the gluten sheets formed by rolling to relax; that makes it easier to shape the crust without stretching it, which in turn prevents the crust from shrinking when it bakes.

Transfer crust to a pyrex pie plate (the easy way is to roll the circle of dough up onto your rolling pin and then gently unroll it into the plate). Press gently into plate, trim and crimp the edges as you please (unless you’re making a two-crust pie, in which case see below). If your recipe calls for a prebaked crust (this one doesn’t), prick it all over with a fork before baking. and weight it down to prevent bubbles (a handful of dried beans on a piece of tinfoil is as good as expensive pie weights).

Use the second disc of dough to make a lid for your pie, or a second pie, or freeze it for later.

* Pastry flour has a lower protein  content than all-purpose or bread flour, but more than cake flour; that helps produce the tender, flaky result you want in a pie crust (or biscuit), as opposed to the chewiness you get in good bread. I used whole wheat pastry flour, grown and ground by Stalford Seed Farms in Shedd. This flour is ground fairly coursely, and the resulting dough was a bit crumbly, so I had to do some piecing to get it in the pan. And the strips for the lattice topping kept breaking – so rather than fuss with them and risk turning the dough tough, I just arranged them randomly on top of the filling. What the heck: It’s all about “more tasty crust,” and I’m not entering it in the county fair or anything.

Sour Cherry Filling

Ready to pit

Ingredients

  • 1 cup plus 1 Tbsp sugar
  • 3-6 Tbsp cornstarch (depending on how juicy your cherries are
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 5-6 cups of fresh cherries, stemmed and pitted. You want enough to mound a bit in the pie crust, whether or not you’re going to put a top crust on. I like sour pie cherries, but feel free to use your favorite variety; just adjust the sugar and lemon juice to the level of sweetness/tartness you enjoy
  • 1 tsp fresh lemon juice (for tart cherries) to 3 Tbsp fresh lemon juice (for sweet cherries)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract OR almond extract, or 1/2 tsp of each
  • 2 Tbsp unsalted butter, cut into cubes
  • 1 Tbsp milk, for glaze

Whisk together 1 cup sugar, cornstarch and salt in a large bowl to blend. Stir in cherries, lemon juice and vanilla/almond extract; set aside.

Preheat oven to 425F.

If you haven’t yet done so, roll out one portion of pie crust and transfer to a pyrex pie pan (you can use the cheap metal ones, but they aren’t as deep and, I think, produce an inferior crust.)

Spoon the cherry mixture into the crust, mounding slightly in the center. Dot with butter. Now you can either

  • Roll out the second disk of dough, cut in strips and make a traditional lattice top crust (here’s a nice little  photographic how-to).
  • Do a standard top crust (don’t forget to cut some vents so the steam can escape)
  • Get creative – use a knife or cookie cutters to  cut shapes from the second sheet of pie crust and lay them on top
  • Leave it open-faced and freeze the other piece of dough for later.

If you do top the pie, finger-crimp the edges together for a tight seal. Brush the top (but not the edges) with a little milk and sprinkle with sugar if you like. To keep the edges from overcooking, I fold a long piece of foil into a narrow collar and wrap it loosely around the rim of the pie; remove it 10 minutes or so before the pie is done.

Place the pie on a rimmed baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 375F and bake until filling is bubbling and crust is golden brown, about 1 hour longer. Transfer to a rack (or an unused stove burner) and cool completely. Serve with vanilla (or lemon!) ice cream.

Tart-sweet, with a crisp, tender-flaky crust and the smooth sweetness of ice cream: It tastes like summer to me.

July 10, 2010 at 10:37 am 2 comments

It’s been a rough summer

… but I’m slowly starting to get back my sense of smell. Having learned way more than I ever wanted to know about anosmia, I’m thankful that my doctor’s initial diagnosis – a lingering, low-grade sinus infection left over from an awful cold I had in April and May – appears to have been the right one.

It’s been very little fun being unable to smell – or, really, taste – much of anything. Takes the fun right out of eating and cooking, I tell you; I haven’t even bothered going to the market for the past month.

That said, I do have one just-in-time-for-the-season treat to recommend, courtesy of my friend Lisa, who blogged about it:

Smitten Kitchen’s take on tomato pie

Tomato Pie

Tomato pie

Since I still can’t cook by taste, as is my habit, I made this last week following the recipe to the letter (well, OK, I used my food processor on the biscuit crust, and I did follow the advice of some of her commenters and drained the tomato slices before putting them in the shell, with a layer of cheese on the bottom to help seal against sogginess).

And then I invited a friend over for dinner, because while I knew there was nothing about this recipe I shouldn’t like, and it certainly looked wonderful, I couldn’t tell if it tasted as good as it looked – although the biscuit crust was wonderfully flaky and crisp.

My dinner companion, however, deemed it “fabulous.” And had seconds.

(Don’t be put off by the mayonnaise – it merges with the tomato-corn mixture and – again, according to my friend – isn’t identifiable beyond “yum!”)


During the flavor hiatus, and particularly while on the antibiotics that appear to have killed off the sinus ick, I’ve found myself drinking a lot of Reed’s Extra Ginger Ginger Ale. I’m not much of a soda drinker, but ginger calms my stomach and stimulates my appetite, and Reed’s is pungent enough I could almost taste it.

However, it’s spendy, and the bottles aren’t refundable in Oregon. So I rummaged around my bookmarks and found a recipe for home-made gingerale that I’d been meaning to try.

Since one of the things I like about Reed’s is its citrusy base, I altered the recipe a little and came up with something pretty doggoned tasty, at a fraction of the cost of the bottled stuff. If you’re a ginger fancier, try it out. It’s very refreshing – and it also works as a great base for my favorite warm-weather adult beverage, the Gin Gin Mule.

Home-made Gingerale

Ingredients

  • 1 hand ginger, about 4 inches worth, sliced into 1/8″ disks
  • Juice of 4 Meyer lemons
  • pinch salt
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • Seltzer water

Combine ginger, lemon juice, salt and water in a heavy saucepan. Bring to a boil, boil for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and strain into a bowl. Stir in sugar until it dissolves; allow to cool. Pour into a glass jar and refrigerate.

When you want ginger ale, mix a standard shotglass of the ginger syrup with 1 cup seltzer; serve over ice.

I was a little short on ginger last time I made this, so I substituted an inch or so of galangal I had in my freezer, sliced. It adds a lovely floral zing to the syrup.

September 6, 2009 at 3:45 pm Leave a comment

It’s hot …

Marionberries and blueberries… and cooking is the last thing on my mind.

Thank heavens for the farmers’ market, and for that magic moment at the height of summer when all the berries converge.

On Saturday, our market still had strawberries – last of the crop, according to the vendor who had sold out by 11. Raspberries were everywhere, the first fat blueberries had arrived, and one vendor even had early Marionberries. Another had ripe, tart red currants, glowing like rubies. I bought some, though I have no idea what to I’ll do with them.

There were also loads of cherries – this seems to be a bumper year for the cherry crop. I bought a bag of those to take to a barbecue, but I saved the berries for myself, and I’ve been eating them by the handful and the bowlful – mostly just as they are, sometimes with a little cream and (in the case of the Marionberries, which haven’t reached their sweet peak yet) a sprinkle of sugar. I did make an easy cobbler with some of the blueberries this morning, heavy on the berries and light on the sugar. That’s breakfast for the next few days.

I’d live on fruit alone right now if I could, but my body has a protein habit. Finding a way to satisfy that with a minimum of kitchen time can be a challenge. Not so this week; the young fisherman who’s been bringing live crab to market also had smoked tuna loins. I threw together a simple rice-and tuna dish that’s a distant cousin to the tuna noodle casseroles I grew up with. You don’t need a recipe for this kind of thing, just a general method.

Last night, after the coastal breezes blew the heat away, I cooked up a pot of brown Basmati rice and put it in the fridge overnight. This evening, I mixed it with some finely diced onion, fresh peas, and about half of the tuna, shredded with my fingers. To boost the smokey flavor, I crumbled up an ounce or so of Rogue Creamery’s Smokey Blue cheese, mixed that in with the tuna and rice. The zest and juice of half a lemon and a couple of tablespoons of mayonnaise to keep everything moist, a sprinkle of parmesan and half an hour in a 350 oven and I’ve got dinner (and a couple of days worth of lunch).

These are the kinds of dishes summer calls for: things you can throw together quickly, filling but not heavy, and full of flavor. Not to mention endlessly adaptable. No peas? Dice up some summer squash, or broccoli, or whatever you find at the market. No rice? Use pasta. Trying to watch the fat content? Moisten the casserole with stock instead of mayonnaise.

And then have berries for dessert.

July 5, 2009 at 6:49 pm Leave a comment

“The season of bounty …

Mid-Summer Still Life… is here.” That’s how one of the vendors at the Albany Farmers’ Market put it this morning, grinning as she tucked my purchase into my backpack for me. Looking around at stalls brimming with variety, I couldn’t argue: Snap peas and sugar peas, lettuce and leeks on one table, flats of berries and cherries on another; late asparagus over there, jams and jellies and honey over here, fresh-baked bread nearby. We’ve finally reached the season of more food than flowers – not that I have anything against flowers, but they aren’t why I go to the market.

Never mind that the weather is still cloudy and cool (the farmers don’t). It’s summer. Just look at the calendar: Solstice falls tomorrow, and while we in North America tend to call it the first day of summer, I like the older traditions of people who marked the start of summer and planting season in May, and thought of the solstice as mid-summer. Which makes tonight Mid-Summer’s Eve, a night to frolic and feast and enjoy the longest day of the year.

Which seems as good an excuse as any to do something special but easy with the gorgeous cherries I brought home from the market today, in a mixed flat with strawberries and raspberries (which will probably get eaten plain, by the handful, if my berry-red fingertips are any indication.)

Really good fruit doesn’t need much help. A simple preparation that focuses on the flavor (and doesn’t tie you to the kitchen on a summer’s day) is just the thing. I thought about cherry pie, with the ruby-red fruit bubbling up in the interstices of a latticed crust, but that takes work, and who am I out to impress today, anyway? Still: Cherries … pie crust … hmmm… ooh, ooh – cherry galette!

A galette is just an easy, rustic pie. Instead of laying the crust in a pie pan and fiddling with a top crust, you center it on a baking sheet, mound the fruit in the center and pull up the dough to partly cover the top. The filling needs less liquid than you might use in a pie – otherwise it tends to leak out before it sets. Bake and serve as you would any old pie.

This recipe makes a small galette – big servings for two, or small ones for four. The almonds and kirshwasser are chosen to punch the pure cherry flavor, and that they do!

Mid-Summer Cherry Galette

Ingredients

  • Crust for a single-layer pie. Make your own, or buy it in the refrigerator case
  • 2 pints ripe local cherries, pitted and halved. (A cherry pitter makes this a snap!)
  • 2 tsp kirschwasser (cherry eau de vie) or lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup + 1 tsp sugar, more or less, depending on the sweetness of your cherries. I like to taste fruit, not just sugar.
  • 1/4 cup almond meal. I use Bob’s Red Mill, but it’s easy enough to grind up a handful of raw almonds in the food processor.

Cherry galette

Method:

Preheat oven to 375F.

Roll out pie crust on a baking sheet (I used a tart pan because it was handy).

Toss cherries with 1 tsp of the kirsch (or lemon juice, if your cherries are especially sweet).

Mix 1/4 c sugar and almond meal; toss that with the cherries. I chose almond meal as a binder for the juicy cherries because almond and cherry are well-matched flavors – and because typical fruit pie thickeners – corn starch, tapioca – can result in a gluey filling. Besides, I had almond meal in the pantry.

Mound filling in the center of the crust; pull up the edges, pleating and pinching as you go, to mostly cover the fruit. Don’t worry if it isn’t symmetrical – galettes are supposed to look rustic!

Brush crust with remaining kirsch or lemon juice; sprinkle with remaining tsp sugar.

Bake 30 minutes, or until golden brown. Some juice will invariably leak out.

Serve warm or cool. Top with ice cream – or creme fraiche!

Happy Solstice!

June 20, 2009 at 5:15 pm 1 comment

In the best of all possible worlds …

Tomatoes, at last I’d be reveling in that brief, magical season when tomatoes, sweet corn and peaches are all ripe, abundant and cheap.

But this isn’t that year, it seems, at least in this part of the Willamette Valley.

The peach crop has been sparse, thanks to bad weather when the trees were in bloom. Some varieties haven’t been seen at the market at all; others are small, buggy or expensive.

Sweet corn is around, but not by the usual truckloads, and not at the usual prices. I’m seeing corn priced at 5 ears for a dollar, double what it was last summer.

And tomatoes? Sloooooooow to ripen, both in back-yard gardens and, evidently, on the farms. The six tomato plants in my own garden, all different heirloom varieties, are loaded with fruit, but only one of them – a Black Plum – has produced any ripe tomatoes yet. I’m crossing my fingers and hoping they’ll ripen in the next couple of weeks, before the rain starts up or the nights get frosty.

But woudn’t you know it: today’s Albany market finally had a great selection of tomatoes, including lots of big, ripe heirloom varieties – and I was in no position to buy, because I’m heading out of town for a nine-day vacation in Seattle. Now’s the time to eat the produce on hand, not stock up on more.

Besides, a friend whose wife has better gardening prowess than I do dropped off a bag of mixed cherry tomatoes last night, and they need to be eaten before I leave town on Monday.

At this time of year I crave tomato sandwiches. Bread, tomatoes, mayonnaise, maybe a little black pepper or a bit of minced basil = heaven. As much as I like a good cherry tomato, you can’t make a decent sandwich from them, because the little suckers keep squirting out from between the slices of bread.

So I settled for the next-best thing: A BLT salad.

I don’t know why you’d need a recipe for this, but here’s one, anyway.

BLT SaladBLT Salad

Per serving:

  • 1 thick slice of slightly stale artisan bread, cut or torn into bite-sized pieces. (I used a some leftover roasted garlic bread from Big River restaurant in Corvallis that a friend had brought to my Labor Day barbecue.)*
  • Olive oil
  • Lettuce, torn in bite-sized pieces*
  • Cherry tomatoes. Small ones can stay whole; if they’re more than a mouthful, slice them in half.*
  • 2 slices of bacon, fried and crumbled*
  • Real mayonnaise. Helman’s/Best Foods is canonical. Make your own if you’re feeling adventurous
  • 3-4 leaves of fresh basil, minced*
  • Black pepper

Toss the bread in a little olive oil. Wrap it in foil and put it in a 350F oven while you cook the bacon (10-15 minutes).

On a plate, layer lettuce, toasted bread, tomatoes and bacon. Top with a spoonful of mayonnaise, scatter basil over the top and finish with a generous grinding of black pepper.

* Locally grown or made ingredients

September 6, 2008 at 7:27 pm 5 comments

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

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