Monday, August 31, 2009

Good things in small spaces


A visit to Hook Mountain Growers
Dr. Pamela Yee and her husband Dr. Charlie Paolino have taken on a life project dear to their hearts. They have converted a portion of their sprawling Nyack, NY suburban backyard into a magnificent kitchen garden. It's more of a mini-farm with a wide range of vegetables and herbs thriving in terraced raised beds. Pam calls her project "homesteading". I call it amazing!
My recent visit to see what a small garden could yield was well rewarded with a perfect sunny day, an eyeful of beautiful bounty and an armload of freshly picked produce.

Butters the bull dog guards the tomato harvest

Pam and her husband devote many hours to the land and I envied the peace and tranquility of their natural back-to-the-land lifestyle so close to NY City. The abundance is impressive and not withstanding the devastation of the tomato blight the couple are able to sell their produce to friends and neighbors on the weekends.
I purchased several pounds of tomatillos for a salsa I planned to make for a large party I was catering in the Hamptons. I picked up a few more vegetables to bring home for my family (Pamela allowed me to choose the most gorgeous peppers right off the plant!) and came home with a grilled ratatouille in mind. The classic French vegetable stew is always an inspiration when the harvest comes in. Rather than slow cooking on the stove, I opted to grill the traditional mix of vegetables. After grilling they are roughly chopped and and then briefly simmered w/ garlic oil and fresh herbs. This can be made the day before and allowed to sit overnight to allow the flavors to blend. Pretty, simple and delicious. Thank you Hook Mountain Growers!

Grilled Ratatouille
The key to this recipe is to keep it rustic. Use the vegetables and herbs you have on hand. I like spicy so I always add some hot peppers. Amanda, the final dish is loaded with flavor and very robust, with a smoky undertone from the grilling. What would you suggest for a compatible wine?

Vegetables before grilling and after

1 eggplant sliced into 1 inch disks
1 onion sliced into quarters w/ root attached to keep pieces together
2 small bell peppers left whole
1 zucchini sliced on an angle into wedges
2 medium tomatoes cut in half
1 jalapeno pepper (optional)
Olive oil (about 6 tablespoons)
3 garlic cloves roughly chopped
small handful of fresh herbs roughly chopped (parsley, tarragon, oregano, basil in any combination)

Brush the vegetables w/ olive oil and grill over hot coals till tender, about 10-15 minutes. Remove charred skin from the peppers and roughly chop all the vegetables and set aside. Heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a sauce pan and add the garlic. Simmer garlic till it begins to turn golden, about 5 minutes. Add the chopped vegetables and the white wine and herbs and simmer for another 10 minutes till flavors combine and wine begins to evaporate. I aggressively mash down the larger pieces of vegetables with the end of a wooden spatula while the stew simmers to further "rusticate" the dish.

Remove from pan and refrigerate overnight to allow the flavors to blend (I can't wait that long and always eat some right away!). Can be served warm or cold.
serves 4

Deb, this looks and sounds absolutely wonderful! Right away, I think of a red. Something with lots of earth but not too powerful as to overwhelm the vegetables. My first thought would be Cabernet Franc, originally from the Bordeaux and Loire Valley regions of France. While it is now grown successfully around the world, I would choose something from the Loire. Chinon is the red wine, made from Cabernet Franc, which comes from this specific area. The wine typically has beautiful aromatics, and has that hint of tobacco which should work well with the smoky flavors from the grill. One of the leading domaines in the area is Couly Dutheil, a favorite of mine. Their Chinon is deep and dark, with lots of complexity - definitely a "food wine". The rusticity of the wine would do wonders with that same quality of the dish.

With this recipe, my mind also wanders to thoughts of Malbec. Originally from the southeast of France, Argentina does wonders with this varietal as well. While the grape is used mostly for blending in France, with the exception of Cahors, it has achieved great success in Argentina due to the hotter climate. And great bargains abound. One of my favorite Argentine winemakers is Susana Balbo, who in my book, can do no wrong. This seems like a perfect combination for an impromptu get-together with friends!

Friday, August 28, 2009

What to do, what to do...

Buying wine can be very intimidating. Surrounded by bottles with fanciful labels I often make an emotional decision rather than an educated one. Pretty graphics, romantic landscapes, sexy nudes, witty wordplay, aggressive come-ons, fine art, oh my. My knowledge of wine is limited, so I rely on the experts for guidance. I always appreciate a wine store with extensive note cards pinned to the different wines (I do love to read!). When left to my own devices, lets say in an unfamiliar wine store with a lackluster selection, I will gravitate towards the familiar. One standby that I have come to count on is the La Vieille Ferme wines. Selling for (sometimes well) under $10 a bottle the wine comes in three flavors: Red, White and Rose. How convenient.

All three are very drinkable, never boring. Boredom is often the problem for me with a less expensive everyday table wine. The bouquet will start to become cloying, a single note will begin to dominate and I just pour it down the drain in disappointment (or rather I shelve it into the cupboard to use in cooking. Yeah, I know the adage about not using wine you wouldn't drink for cooking, but seriously, almost any wine tastes good when it is used as part of a braising liquid. seriously.)

This cute feathered couple suggest a rustic French Farm. What could be bad about that?

Amanda, you are a sophisticated connoisseur of wine, I wonder what you think of the La Vieille Ferme line of wines. How does it compare in your estimation to other wines in this price point (I can get it at my local wine store on Queens Boulevard for $6.99 a bottle! WooHoo!)?

I have to agree. These wines are absolutely wonderful values. I tasted them recently and was impressed by all three. It's no wonder, as the project is owned by Jean Pierre Perrin. Perrin is fifth generation owner of one of the greatest domaines in Chateauneuf du Pape - Chateau de Beaucastel. Beaucastel has been producing some of the world's greatest wines since early in the 20th century (but its lineage goes back to the 16th century). Robert Parker sings the praises of these wines as well. With regard to the Vieille Ferme line-up, he has said these are wines "for those who want great quality and delicious drinking". The wines receive wonderful ratings from vintage to vintage. I highly recommend all three, and they are perfect for entertaining large crowds, as they are true crowd-pleasers, and incredibly food-friendly. The wines are also available in magnums which are great for parties!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Alone With My Beans

I open my refrigerator door and stare blankly at my bag of beautiful purple string beans. I bought them the other day at the Blooming Grove Farm Market on my excursion with Deborah. I am so enamoured by produce, I buy on impulse. I don't wait to get to know the vegetable better, I react first on physical attraction. So it was with my purple string beans. And now,they sit, awaiting my decision. I first spotted them across the market.
They were beautiful, long and slender. I've seen them cooked before, and know they lose their beautiful shade of deep purple, turning to the familiar green of common cooked string beans. But I love them nonetheless. I now have gotten to know them and appreciate them for what they are, how they taste. Once again, Deborah, I will turn to you for suggestions.

The other night, I made a great recipe from the Deborah Madison cookbook "Vegetarian Suppers". It was an omelet with fresh corn and smoked mozzarella. I was so happy with how "light" it actually was. So, now I am on an egg kick. Any thoughts on an egg/string bean recipe? Incidentally, I also have a bottle of Riesling I am anxious to open. Rieslings tend to make great omelet/frittata partners. Many Americans are "afraid" of Rieslings, assuming they are all sweet. This is absolutely not the case. The labeling on German wines can be extremely daunting. Don't be shy - ask your local wine shop for help. And yes, Rieslings can be sweet. Their system in Germany is too complicated for a single lesson. I am looking for something to pair with a "Kabinett" Riesling - the lowest grade of sweetness for this varietal in Germany, or the most dry. It's minerality stands out. Hints of slate are prominent too as a result of the soil on which the grapes are grown. So - Deb - can you suggest a recipe to include string beans, and will pair well with a very dry Riesling?

My first experience with vegetarian cooking was from a book called
"Greene on Greens" by Bert Greene. Amanda's challenge got me thinking about that cookbook which has one of my favorite green bean recipes called Norman Beans with Eggs. It is a rustic green bean frittata, the poor cousin of my fancy Julia Child timbale. I have made this dish for years and went back to my book to see how it all started.

As an intro to vegetarian cooking "Greene on Greens" is perfect. It is not strictly vegetarian. The Chapters are divided up into different vegetables and Greene gives a dozen or so recipes for each one, including chatty introductions loaded with general cooking and produce selection tips. He mixes personal anecdotes with vegetable lore, history and nutritional information making the book great bedside reading. In his intro to string beans Greene remembers the bean harvest of his youth being anxiously anticipated by depression era kitchen gardeners like his grandmother and that children were instructed to "...make a wish before sampling the first slender pod (of the season.)" I loved, as a novice cook, his comfortable, friendly advise and the recipes have never failed to please.

Purple beans before being blanched and after.

Amanda, I think you will particularly like this recipe. It is easy to prepare, family friendly and I think it works well with your Riesling.

Green Bean Frittata
Based on Bert Greene's recipe for Norman Beans with Eggs

1 lb. Green Beans, cut into 1.5 inch lengths
butter for inside of baking dish
½ teas. lemon juice
zest of 1/2 lemon
1 Tbs. chopped chives
1 Tbs. chopped parsley
s & p
4 eggs lightly beaten
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 400 degrees
Blanch beans in salted boiling water for 1-2 min until they turn
bright green and soften a little. Drain and rinse in cold water to
slow the cooking. Arrange the beans evenly in a buttered baking dish.
Add the rest of the ingredients into a bowl and stir to mix. Pour egg
mixture over the beans and sprinkle grated cheese over the top. Bake
in oven for about 10 minutes till set.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

A Blooming good time

Happiness for me can easily be defined by a trip to a wonderful farmer's market. Amanda had one in mind when we met this weekend to catch up on business. The Blooming Hill Farm is easy to miss, especially on a rainy day when you are having an argument with your husband in the car about whether the GPS is all right or all wrong. He was right, I was wrong. The GPS was right too. The farm had a small chalk board sign marking the entrance and no name, just a WE ARE OPEN. A person could miss it.
It was worth the 1.5 hour drive from Queens in torrential rain to spend a few hours enjoying this lovely setting. The sun peaked out a bit now and then and the rain settled in to an occasional mist.

The farm has it's own cafe that takes rustic charm to new heights. We ordered a few things for lunch, all prepared from scratch with the farms own ingredients. Delicious! The pizza crust was thin and crispy with a hint of smoky flavor from the wood burning grill. The spinach and ricotta panini was filling and tasty. A spinach lovers treat.

I shopped until I dropped, filling my bag with lettuces, green beans, blue potatoes, a bouquet of pink zinnias, and yes, even some heirloom tomatoes. Once home and beginning to unpack I admired the patty pan squashes I purchased. Stuffed with quinoa and fresh herbs they make a really pretty summer meal.

Quinoa Stuffed Patty Pan Squashes

-this versatile dish can be prepared with any number of different herbs and cheeses. I use what I have on hand and make it with a slightly different twist each time.

4 patty pan squashes
1 Tbs. olive oil
1/2 cup chopped onions
1 clove garlic minced
1/2 cup chopped herbs (such as parsley, basil, dill, mint, tarragon, sage, singlely or any combination)
1 cup cooked Quinoa
1/2 cup shredded cheese (such as cheddar, ricotta, fontina, feta)
s & p to taste

Heat oven to 350 degrees.
Trim off top third of squashes and set aside.
With a spoon, scoop out the flesh of each squash so you have created a cup. Chop up the scooped out squash flesh and set aside. Heat oil in pan and cook onions till they soften and begin to turn translucent. Add garlic and chopped squash and continue to cook for 10 more minutes until most of the moisture is evaporated and the squash begins to turn a light golden color. Add the chopped herbs and remove pan from heat. Mix in the quinoa and the cheese. S & P the mixture to taste. Fill each squash cup with the quinoa mixture, piling it up so the filling mounds up out of the top. Place filled squash and the reserved tops into a lightly oiled baking dish and cook 35 minutes till golden brown. Serve squashs with there tops arranged at a jaunty angle.
serves four.

Some classic cheese and herb combinations I like:
Feta and Dill
Cheddar and Sage
Goat and Tarragon
Ricotta and Basil
Fontina and Thyme
Have fun experimenting with different combos!

Blooming Hill Farm is truly a special place. I used to visit it every Saturday and Sunday when I lived up in Monroe, NY. In the summer after my son was born, it was the only place I could go with him and actually relax and find peace and quiet. When he was a toddler, he along with several other toddlers donned in water shoes or rain boots, would wade through the stream finding tadpoles, turtles and bugs and tossing stones. I was indeed grateful for this wonderful spot so full of serenity. Now, I am more than happy driving an hour to enjoy the farm and the abundant organic produce they offer - not to mention their menu that is prepared to perfection. I, like Deborah, indulged in their offerings. But, the big difference between Deborah and I is that she gets inspired and lets her heart guide her, instinctively knowing the creations she will concoct. I, on the other hand, get inspired, buy a bunch of stuff, and don't know what to do with it. I have decent cooking skills, probably better than average, but I need to be given suggestions. I lack the inherent creativity of a true chef. So, after reading Deb's recipe on the quinoa stuffed patty pans, I now have a new recipe to try! It sounds delicious. My favorite thing about Deb's recipes is they combine simplicity with elegance. I would pair different wines with this dish, depending on the cheese used. One tip about pairing wine and cheese: wines from specific regions have a particular affinity for cheeses from the same regions. So, as an example: Let's say you were using goat cheese and chose Crottin de Chavignol, which is made in the Loire Valley of France. Sancerre, from the same region would be a great match. Sancerre is made from 100% Sauvignon Blanc, and has wonderful acidity, crispness and minerality. Lots of green apple and citrus fruit flavors as well. A Vouvray would work well to, which is made from Chenin Blanc. Substitute ricotta, and a new world of opportunities unfolds! For this, I would choose an Italian Rose, and I would even go for red. Sangiovese would be the first to come to mind, such as a Chianti. But remember, this "wine from a region paired with a cheese from that region" tip is only a guide, and need not be steadfast. Nothing ever matters as much as your personal tastes and preferences! Can't wait to make this dish! But before I do, Deb, I have a question: Can you eat the entire squash when it's done, or just the filling?
-eat it all!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

ME and Julia

Anyone who loves to cook has had a Julia Child moment. The "moment" is the experience that the new movie "Julie & Julia" captures so well. It is the romance, the pure romance of food. Precisely, it is the experience of tasting a dish and falling in love with it, learning how to prepare it and serving the results to someone you love.

After coming home from seeing the film I went to the book shelf to pull out my old copy of "Mastering the Art of French Cooking", a wedding gift from when I was a very young bride many years ago. I was curious to see where the pages would open. The book immediately plopped open to a well worn recipe of Timbales de Foies De Volaille (unmolded Chicken Liver Custards), but I was amused to see that where it read Chicken Livers I had crossed out the words and written Spinach. Apparently I was the Queen of substitutions long before becoming a professional cook.

How would I cook this dish now? I remember the spinach version of long ago was a big hit at a family Christmas dinner. I had a dozen fresh farm eggs purchased on my recent trip to Stone Barns center for Food and Agriculture and I remembered admiring their yellow stemmed swiss chard growing in neat abundant rows. I had a plan.

yellow chard growing in the greenhouse at Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture

Embellishing and trimming Julia's recipe as I saw fit I made a bechamel sauce and added some nutmeg (why not), I trimmed the stems off a bunch of swiss chard and chopped them up with 2 cloves of garlic and sauteed it all in some butter and oil till soft, then added the cleaned chard leaves (roughly chopped) w/ some s & p. I cooked the greens till wilted, then added 1/2 a glass of white wine, cooked that down and then let it cool so the chard would not cook the raw eggs when I blended them together. It was at this point that I remembered how labor intensive this recipe was.

beautiful rainbow colored swiss chard stems

Ok, then I broke 3 eggs and put them in the food processor, added the cooled chard mixture, the bechamel sauce and 6 tablespoons of heavy cream and blended till smooth. Julia recommends ramekins for baking, but, I don't know, ramekins kind of bug me out so I used a faux-copper ring mold which I thought looked cute and retro. I heavily butter the mold, placed it in a pan of (oops forgot to get the water boiling) boiling water, and filled the mold to nearly the top. Ok, my work is done here. Into a 350 degree oven till edges start to brown, for 25 min.

After 40 minutes and still not quite as brown as instructed I pulled the thing out. Very nice. Ran a knife around the edges of the mold and inverted onto a plate. Well, you can see the mess for yourselves. Deflated but still curious I took a taste. Heavenly!! The timbale was light as air yet had tons of flavor. It was delicious and went down easily. I had to force myself to save some for my sister and her husband who where expecting me for lunch.

Out of the oven! and onto the plate

Bon Appetit!

Hmmmm...well, it certainly sounds delicious. I'd actually like to try this one too. Just a question - if you did it again, is there anything you would do differently as far as preparation? Do you think cooking it longer would have held it together? Or would you suggest sticking to the idea of ramekins? Given your description of the flavors, I would love to give this a go! The cream base and bechamel sauce immediately bring white Burgundy to mind. White Burgundy is made from 100% Chardonnay. While a California chardonnay will work well too, just make sure it is not one which is too powerful or over-oaked. Over-use of oak would surely snuff out the light flavors of the dish. Yes, white Burgundy seems to me the perfect option. Learning about Burgundy can be confusing, so always ask someone at your local wine shop for guidance. For example, Chablis tend to be lighter, and more crisp than wines from other regions in Burgundy. I'd go for something richer and rounder. What comes to mind is Pouilly Fuisse. Pouilly Fuisse is typically medium-bodied and elegant, and more affordable than some of the other appellations such as Chassagne Montrachet and Meursault. And, it's not too light, but also not too "big" for this dish. Olivier Leflaive makes a great Pouilly Fuisse - Marie Antoinette. Usually around $20, it is inexpensive for Burgundy. The earthiness and richness of the wine will work beautifully in conjunction with the swisschard and cream. I'll try it out and let you know how it goes!

-Good question about what I would do differently! I finally realized that I had neglected to squeeze the cooked chard dry to drain off some of the liquid. It was too wet and so the timbale never had a chance to firm up properly. I love a good white Burgundy, excellent suggestion!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Lidia, Oh Lidia

Hot hot day and I cant face anything, especially where stoves are concerned so I'm sitting in front of the AC (set at 75 degrees, really) with the TV on. Lidia Bastianich, the amazing Italian chef, is on channel 13 making a radicchio risotto. I am so inspired I run into my kitchen, despite the heat, to start my own risotto. I don't have radicchio, but I am still swimming in tomatoes and I have a half a bulb of fennel so Im good to go.

The risotto was eaten before I could take a photo!

Lidia debates using stock in her risotto vs. plain simmering water. I have never come across a risotto recipe that calls for plain water. Lidia opts for the water even though the camera has panned over a lovely simmering stock. WATER? I'm intrigued. Well, let's give it a try. After the initial additions of water into the rice mixture I give it a taste and think, not so great. But by the time the dish was finished and butter was added (Lidia added at LEAST A STICK of BUTTER to finish the dish. I couldn't quite bring myself to do that. Sorry Julia, I know, I know). I was surprised by the pleasantly subtle sweet and fragrant flavor of the tomatoes infusing the rice. Stock now seemed like an overbearing intruder and I am sold on this new approach.

Fennel Tomato Risotto
and Couly Dutheil Chinon Rose
3 Tbs. Butter
2 Tbs. extra virgin Olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1/2 fennel bulb, chopped
1/2 teas. salt
1 cup arborio rice
3 cups simmering salted water
1 cup of Rose wine (I used la Vielle Ferme)
1 large tomato chopped
1/2 cup grated romano cheese

Heat 1Tbs butter and 1Tbs olive oil in large sauce pan. When butter is warm and melted add the onions, the fennel and salt. Sweat the vegetables a few minutes until they are soft and translucent. Add rice and stir in pan until all grains are coated and begin to look a little clear. Add half the tomatoes and cook another minute till the tomatoes begin to break down a bit. Pour in the wine and let the pan simmer until wine is absorbed. Begin to slowly add the simmering water by the ladleful, allowing the liquid to absorb into the rice before adding the next ladleful. Lidia suggests it will take at least 10 additions of water until the rice is done. When is it done? The rice should be creamy, slightly loose, a bit al dente but cooked through. If it tastes done, its done.
Turn off heat and add the rest of the tomatoes, the butter, the cheese and the olive oil, stirring to combine.
Serve four right away!
Deb - I have just one word to describe my meal experience last night: exquisite. I decided to make this for dinner, and immediately knew which wine I would enjoy with it. When I saw "rose" listed in the ingredients, my decision was made. I figured the creamy texture of the risotto, and the wonderful licorice flavor of the fennel would be a great match for what else? A rose. But which one? I decided to go with one of my absolute favorites this summer - a Chinon Rose from Couly Dutheil located in the Loire Valley of France. The wine is made from 100% Cabernet Franc, and is just a beautiful composite of cherry fruit flavors and spice. Medium in body, the wine itself has a creamy texture which I knew would be perfect with the Risotto. Love, love, love this wine.
I chopped the fennel, tomato, and onion while the kids were eating dinner. Around 9:30, after the kids were asleep, I began to cook. I opened the bottle of wine, and enjoyed a glass while making dinner. I stood over my risotto, adding water, watching and waiting, anxiously anticipating what I knew would be wonderful by the mixed aromas in the kitchen. And I was loving my glass of wine! When it was done (and Deb - you're 100% right - you know it's done when it's done. Just keep trying it and you'll know), I placed a modest portion in a pretty bowl and topped off my glass of Rose. I was in heaven. This dish is incredibly suited to rose. The risotto was amazing, one of the best meals I've prepared in a long while. The rich fruit flavors of the wine were perfect next to the fennel and creamy texture of the risotto. I can't say enough good things about this pairing. It has "dinner party" written all over it. This is something I am, without a doubt, preparing the next time I cook for friends.
Oh, and one more thing, that modest portion that I placed in my bowl soon grew to 3 or 4 modest portions. Couldn't stop eating it. But Deb, one question: Any suggestions for leftover fennel?

-leftover fennel? goes great in soup, pasta sauce, or thinly sliced raw into salads. The flavor is so mild but has great depth and combines really well with other vegetables. 

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Head Over Heals...Again

I'm hooked on a wine again. Every so often, I fall in love with a wine and fall hard. The wine becomes my everyday "go to" wine for several weeks, before another wine comes along and steals my palate. Don't get me wrong - I love drinking all types of wines from all different regions. It's just now and then I latch on to one, especially if it is an absolute bargain. These days I'm head over heels for a Cotes du Rhone. Chateau Pesquie Les Terrasses is a marvelous blend of Grenache, Syrah, Carignan and Cinsault. It is a lovely, rich, round wine with plenty of sweet red berry fruit flavors. (The wine itself is not sweet). It has elegance and depth, and hints of spice, and a touch of earthiness. The wine comes from the Cotes du Ventoux area of the Rhone region in France, typically known for great values. (This wine sells for the ridiculously low price of $11.99) It is medium-bodied and really is suitable to the summer heat. So, I'm planning on introducing the wine to a friend tonight who is coming over for dinner. Deb - what do you think would be a good match for the wine?

Driving out to Shelter Island off the North Fork of Long Island this week to meet with a client I passed countless farm stands. These humble roadside shacks are irresistible to me, so after my meeting I pulled over to a randomly selected stand to check out the goods. What did I find but (a few) heirloom tomatoes! eureka. Amanda's wine selection put me in the mood for something a little bold, so I put together my version of pasta puttanesca for dinner. This dish, the preferred pasta of Italian prostitutes (so the legend goes) is quick and robust and begs for a nice red wine.

Garlic drying at Stone Barns center for Food and Agriculture (more about this place in upcoming posts).

I decided to make a really fragrant olive oil base w/ tons of garlic and capers and then very lightly cook the tomatoes to keep them tasting fresh, almost uncooked. Any variety of good fresh tomatoes tastes good in this dish so I am going to keep the heirlooms to eat straight up in a salad.

Pasta Puttanesca
1/2 extra virgin olive oil
6 cloves garlic chopped
1/2 t red pepper flakes (more as desired)
1 T anchovy paste (I love this stuff from the tube, so easy, but you could add 3 whole oil packed anchovies instead)
2 T capers, rinsed
1/2 sliced black olives
4 large tomatoes chopped
1/2 t salt
1 pd. Linguine

grated cheese to taste

heat the olive oil in a sauce pan and add the next five ingredients. Let the oil come up to a simmer and cook for about 10 minutes till the garlic begins to turn golden. Add the chopped tomatoes and salt and cook another 5 minutes till the tomatoes begin to soften a bit, but not break down. Cook pasta in boiling salted water as directed on package. Drain and toss with tomato sauce. Add cheese to taste.

serves four

Monday, August 10, 2009

Bitter Blight


Saratoga Spa State Park, a gorgeous place to picnic.

This weekend was our family's annual trip to Saratoga Springs, NY and their farmers' market is undoubtedly the highlight of my summer. The variety of produce and the passion among farmers and shoppers for all things fresh and delicious is always palpable. I dream for weeks ahead about the elaborate meal I will make after my shopping. This year, as always, I headed straight over to my favorite heirloom tomato grower. My heart sank as I looked over his beautiful knobby fingerling potatoes and his lush lettuces. Not a tomato in sight. I was informed that almost the entire crop had been wiped out by the raging tomato blight and there was little hope of salvaging even a tenth of the crop. So sad.

One or two farmers had small tomatoes available and I grabbed up a few precious fruits. My plan this year was to head straight to our picnic site after shopping, so food prep had to be simple.

Such cute little canteloupes!

The grapefruit sized mini cantaloupes could not be passed up and some pretty sweet white onions rounded out the salad I had in mind. I had already packed a vinaigrette that I made at home, so all was set. It is hard to accept that I won't be seeing much of the heirlooms this summer. I wait all year for one month of tomato bliss. The farmer told me that the organic and small farms are the ones being the hardest hit. I had been enjoying the relentless June rains for keeping my home garden moist but now I am realizing the bitter price.

Well, I had the makings of a fantastic salad in my hands so it was time to look on the sunny side.

A trifecta!

Tomato Cantaloupe and Sweet Onion Salad
serves 4

4 Small tomatoes thinly sliced
1/2 a cantaloupe melon, thinly sliced
1 small Sweet Onion, thinly Sliced

1 Tbls sherry vinegar
I garlic clove, crushed
1/2 tsp powdered mustard
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground pepper
1/4 cup really good extra virgin olive oil

So, the key to this salad is the thin slicing. The tomato and melon don't have to be paper thin, but try to get the onions as thin as possible. Arrange everything on a plate in any pretty way you like. The colors will be beautiful.

Make the vinaigrette: in a small bowl whisk together the first 5 ingredients to blend, then slowly drizzle in the olive oil as you whisk to emulsify. Try to use the best olive oil you can get your hands on as this is what is going to make the salad heavenly.

Spoon the dressing over the salad and let sit for a few minutes so all the flavors mingle.

serves four

Deb - This salad sounds great, especially given its simplicity. I might even be making a trip to the market on the way home to try this myself! Sounds like a perfect dish for a hot day like today. I would love to enjoy it alongside one of my favorite summertime drinks - a nice, cold glass of Prosecco. This wonderfully refreshing sparkler is Italy's answer to Champagne, just slightly less effervescent. The Prosecco grape hails primarily from the Veneto region of Italy. It typically produces light, crisp, delicate sparkling wines with wonderful fruit flavors. Prosecco doesn't have the same "serious" side as Champagne. It's just a great libation to enjoy with friends, sitting outside on the patio during summer. And what makes it even more attractive is its affordability! Price generally ranges from $9-$20. Two of my favorite Prosecco producers are Bisol and Riondo. The light, refreshing characteristics of Prosecco make it a perfect complement to this light, refreshing salad! Might just have to invite a few friends over tonight! - Amanda

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Summer Pickings


Invasion of the mint plants.

This time of year meal planning is all about simplicity and what is available in the garden. Fresh herbs are at their peak and nothing says summer dinner like a basil pesto. I love to use a mix of different herbs with my pesto. There is always plenty of mint spreading into my flower beds by late July so I pull it out by the fistful and add it to my ice tea, salads and of course pesto.

Purple basil so pretty in salads and delicious infused in vinegar.

My pesto is inspired by whatever is on hand. Sometimes I add oregano or chives, always some parsley, whatever looks good or too plentiful. Might as well use everything up while it is fragrant and mature. I have made herb pestos without any basil at all. And I am also willing to experiment with different nuts to replace pinenuts, sometimes using walnuts or almonds. My newest favorite is peppitas, the dried pumpkin seeds which add a rich earthy flavor to the savory herbs. And once made, then what? Well, pasta, naturally or topped on grilled chicken or steak. Great on a baked potato. I love a simple orzo & pesto salad I can quickly whip up on a hot sticky evening that fills everyone up and doesn't leave me wilted in the kitchen. I add cherry tomatoes or steamed broccoli for color and texture.
A chilled wine would be great with this light summer meal. What does Amanda think?


I think a fresh, white, crisp wine would be perfect with this warm-weather dish. In fact, I have the perfect wine in mind - a Gruner Veltliner. This varietal is grown primarily in Austria and around the Czech Republic. The food-friendly, crowd-pleasing, affordable Forstreiter Grooner is a fun, "everyday" lighter style which would be a perfect accompaniment to the lemon-herb flavors in the orzo. The combination of this summery fare and refreshing wine are well-suited to an afternoon brunch or backyard barbeque!

Orzo Pesto Salad

a loose cup of herbs (basil, oregano, mint, lemon balm, tarragon, chives, parsley)
1/4 cup extra virgin Olive Oil
1/4 cup peppitas (pumpkin seeds)
1 teaspoon salt
2 garlic cloves
1/2 cup grated Romano Cheese
1lb. Orzo
1 pint cherry tomatoes cut in half
1/2 cup pitted kalamata olives
roughly chop or tear herbs and put in food processor. add salt, garlic, peppitas and start food processor. as machine is running drizzle in the olive oil through the feed tube. the pesto should be blended, but not pureed. Add the grated cheese and pulse once or twice to blend. taste for seasoning. I like a lot of salt.

Cook orzo in boiling salted water till al dente. Drain, mix in bowl w/ pesto, olives and cherry tomatoes.

serves 4