Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Love's labor's lost

I tenderly kissed my tomato plants goodbye on Saturday night. I figured it would be the last time I 'd see them once Irene stormed through. As we now know, Irene was very kind to most of us in NYC and so my tomato plants live on.

Not all of us were lucky. So many towns in upstate NY are reeling from the brutal flooding that washed away hopes, dreams and years of labor and love. It will take years to rebuild for many and much has been lost for good. We in the city will begin to see some of that loss in the local farmers markets for the rest of this season. Many Hudson Valley and Catskill farms have lost their entire fall crops. These are losses not only to the farmer's income and the enjoyment of those of us that patronize these farmers, but it includes the many who are dependent on these extended systems.
Take for example Roxbury Farm, a community supported farm located in Kinderhook, NY. Their current newsletter describes to their CSA community in heartbreaking detail the irreparable loss of the upcoming season's bounty. I ran into a colleague who runs a food pantry that is connected to the Roxbury Farm CSA drop-off site on the Upper West Side. That pantry has been the recipient of generous donations of Roxbury farm's beautiful produce all summer long.  The loss of that resource will be a terrible blow to the patrons of the food pantry where need is great and resources are always scarce.

As I was waiting for the storm to pass on Sunday I dug into my refrigerator and pulled out all the odds and ends accumulated over the week. Hurricane soup is what I dubbed the result of combining these disparate bits to make a compelling and very delicious whole.

The white beans were cooked from scratch, submerged under two inches of water in a covered pot for about one hour, till tender.  I had plenty of time on Sunday to make them, but I am not above using canned beans when in a rush and they can be substituted here.

In a separate pot saute some chopped carrots, celery and onions in a dash of olive oil.

To the sauteed vegetables add the cooked beans, some vegetable stock or broth and some chopped tomatoes and bring to a simmer for 5 minutes.

Add some cubed potatoes or pumpkin or winter squash to the pot and continue to cook till these vegetables are soft.

Add a whole chili pepper to the simmering pot. If you leave the chili whole you will extract the flavor with out all the heat. I happened to have these habanero chilies growing in my garden. They are one of the hottest peppers, but after fishing the chili pepper out of the soup pot at the end of cooking the broth had a pleasant bite without a major sting.

Cooked green vegetables go into the soup pot towards the end of cooking. I had leftover green beans and broccoli rabe that I chopped into bite sized pieces and added to the mix. Simmer for a few more minutes till all the ingredients are warmed through.
My refrigerator offered up other choice tidbits like grilled onions and zucchini that also got chopped up and thrown in. I wanted a lot of variety of textures and flavors in the soup, but tried to be mindful not to go too crazy, you don't want the soup to be weird. Too late for me. My husband was picking the broccoli rabe out of his bowl and smiling politely.

Chop up some fresh herbs to stir into the finished soup and top with shaved Parmesan cheese. Serve piping hot!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

tomato time

Apples have hit the farmers market, a sure signal that the season has begun to change. I dream of that first bite of apple from the new crop and could not resist picking up a few early macs to savor while I shopped the farmers markets for TOMATOES! It is now or never with the tomato crop so with my plans to stock up I had to get on it.
Tomatoes of every size shape and color are now available in the outdoor markets. These heirloom beauties go for $4 per pound, a price that really adds up, especially when each tomato can weigh close to a pound.
Even the non-heirloom varieties can take a stab at your budget at $3 per pound. These gorgeous red globes are particularly hard to resist.
Keep an eye out for what the farmers call "seconds," these are the fruit that are less than picture perfect, but taste just as good. I found some particularly challenged heirloom seconds for $2 per pound and I pounced. Filling my bag quickly, the $9 I ended up spending still seemed steep, but well worth it.
Yes this is a funky looking bunch, but beauty is only skin deep and the proof is in the tasting.
Once opened up and put on the plate these second cousins move right up to honored guests status. I am going to be making batches of tomato sauce this week. I like to prepare it as a simple stove top simmer with garlic, basil and good olive oil. What I don't consume immediately will freeze well and make me smile come cool weather.

To keep my strength up while comparison shopping I put together a couscous salad, inspired by the Greek salads I have been making for a client recently. Chopped vegetables, a sprinkle of dill, a bit of feta cheese and a garlicky vinaigrette make this a filling, tasty dish that can hold up over several days, perfect for a picnic or a farmer's market road trip.

Greek Couscous Salad
2 cups of cooked couscous
1 small tomato, cut into 1" pieces
1 small cucumber, cut into 1" pieces
1/2 bell pepper (red or green) , cut into 1" pieces
1/2 small onion, cut into 1" pieces
4 oz feta cheese, cut into 1" pieces
1/2 cup pitted black olives sliced in half
2 Tablespoons chopped dill

Combine all ingredients in a bowl.

Make dressing: 
-whisk all together in a small bowl
1 garlic clove smashed and finely minced
1 teaspoon salt
2 Tablespoons red wine vinegar

-then slowly whisk in:
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil.
Combine dressing ingredients by whisking vigorously. Pour dressing over couscous and vegetables. Stir to combine. Chill for 1 hour before serving.

I first read Deb's post late yesterday afternoon. After a great work-out at the gym, I was left wondering what to have for dinner. So, inspired by Deb's recipe, I ran to the supermarket on my way home to pick up the necessary ingredients. Going by memory, I left out a few things, of course. Fortunately I had most of the forgotten items on hand at home.

DELICIOUS! I absolutely loved this salad. Easy to make and so satisfying. I, too, have been making Greek-type salads all summer and this just hit the spot. In fact, I loved it so much, I came up with the idea to have a "Mediterranean" Girls Night. Hummus, babaganoush, tabouleh, plenty of pita, stuffed grape leaves, cous cous salad, maybe even falafel (Deb - do you have a recipe?) And all I could think about was......Rose.

While I was enjoying my dinner, I kept thinking how wonderful a glass of Rose would be with it. I didn't have any on hand, and I was regretful. Crisp, dry, pink....this is what I was imagining. If my Mediterranean Night ever comes to fruition, this is what I will be serving. Rose would be the perfect accompaniment to all of the aforementioned dips, spreads and salads. Recently, we promoted Domaine Les Haut Cances Cotes du Rhone Cairanne Rose. It quickly became one of my favorites. The little zing of acidity on your tongue makes it particularly wonderful. A blend of Syrah, Cinsault, Grenache and Carignan, it is made like an expensive red. It is truly extraordinary.

Being that this is only a 200 case production, it might be hard to find. But, you should have no problem finding other incredible Roses from the Rhone. Wines from the region are typically dry, and are made from blends similar to the Haut Cances. Wines from the same regions should be stylistically similar. Great bottles can be found for between $10-$15. There is an abundance of affordable options!

Thanks Deb, for this beautiful salad!

Monday, August 15, 2011

hot tomato!

It's on! During my recent visit to Saratoga Springs, NY I stopped by the Saratoga Salsa and Spice Company store to pick up a few jars of my all time favorite salsa: a tomatillo and serrano chili concoction called Hotter than Hot. I just love the stuff.
It lives up to its name with a serious sting, yet has a great smokey flavor that keeps me dipping in for more. The owner of the store, noting my enthusiasm, began telling me about a few new products he is developing including a version of Hotter than Hot that will be extra mild (what?!) as well as a roasted garlic version. He asked me if I had any recipes using the salsa that I might like to share. Well, um, actually, no, I didn't. I had never really thought about cooking with the salsa, I am usually just piling it on top of eggs, burgers or anything off the grill.  Hmmm, it was time for me to give this some consideration.
With all the tomatoes on my hands an idea popped up: a spicy sauce to put on top of some cheese ravioli I had bought for dinner. The recipe started to take shape as I began cooking. Cherry tomatoes sauteed in butter and sugar were cooked to a jammy consistency as a sweet counter balance to the fiery salsa. I finished the sauce with a shot of heavy creamy to further tame the flames. The result was sublime! I only need a dash of Hotter than Hot to get the full hit of its distinctive flavor. It combined beautifully with the tomatoes and the cream and the sauce was heaven on top of the ravioli.

While I was busy at the stove putting this recipe together I pulled out of the fridge some cooked leftover potatoes and green beans, delectable farmers market finds that I had been eating all week. It occurred to me to make a quick spicy potato salad using a combo of the salsa with mayonnaise to dress the cold vegetables. Excellent! Don't serve it to the faint of heart, but if you happen to be attending a pot luck dinner with say, some foodies from Brooklyn (ok, maybe not this weekend), you will be the hit of the party.

 Saratoga Salsa and Spice Company, there you are - TWO recipes. Enjoy!

Spicy Creamy Tomato Sauce

•In a sauce pan heat 1 tablespoon of butter
• Add half a pint of cherry tomatoes and tablespoon of sugar to the tomatoes and gently cook till the tomatoes have burst their skins and get a jammy consistency, about 15 minutes.
•Add 1-2 tablespoons of Hotter Than Hot salsa, or any other tomatillo salsa, and stir in pan to heat through and combine with the tomatoes.
•Add 1/2 cup of heavy cream and simmer for 2 minutes.
•Serve over cheese ravioli or tortellini

Spicy Potato and Green Bean Salad

•In a large bowl combine 2 cups of cooked potatoes cut into small cubes with one cup of cooked green beans cut into 1 inch pieces.
•Add 1/2 cup chopped celery and 1/4 cup chopped onion 
In a small bowl whisk together 1/2 cup mayonnaise with 1 Tablespoon Hotter Than Hot salsa, or any other tomatillo salsa
•Pour the mayonnaise mixture over the vegetables and toss to combine. Chill for one hour.
•Garnish with 2 tablespoons chopped chives or parsley and serve.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

tomato tart revisited

Tomatoes are finally rolling in! The wait is always worth it. This year my backyard tomato harvest is a bit more respectable than seasons past, which is to say that this weeks yield alone is larger than ALL of last years crop. I am very proud.
 This weeks harvest, a windfall for my humble Queens backyard tomato patch.
Part of my success was sticking with cherry tomato varieties. Their tiny size increased the chance of getting the fruit to ripen on the vine. My friends at Hook Mountain Growers set me up back in May with five different heirloom varieties, each a healthy beautiful specimen. I was well on my way to a bountiful growing season.
These will begin to turn red within a few days.
This is the slowest of my tomatoes to come to harvest and is called the Michael Pollan Tomato. You KNOW I had to have that! So curious to see it ripen. It will stay mostly green with some streaks of yellow.

As for the eating: 
Combining the different varieties of tomatoes into a single recipe will give a simple dish a lot of complexity. Slow roasting the tomatoes with some garlic and olive oil till they are soft and the skin is bursting is a delectable way to use up a large crop. They can then be served as a side dish or condiment for any grilled food or as a sauce over pasta.

I am partial to tarts and decided to make one similar to the one I shared with you last summer. Use the same crust as that recipe or even easier, use a store bought prepared crust or puff pastry. For this cherry tomato tart quarter or halve the cherry tomatoes and let them tumble together in the pre-baked pie crust.
Sprinkle salt and pepper over the tomatoes and add some thinly sliced garlic and a drizzle of olive oil.
 Grate your favorite cheese on top and bake for 15-20 minutes.
This tart is so good to eat and not difficult to make once you get past the business of the crust.  The range of sweet and tart flavors of the various tomatoes are brilliantly featured in this dish which showcases the best of summer eating.

Gorgeous! Looks like a beautiful dish to serve at a summertime brunch, or as a starter before a dinner party. I am currently in tomato heaven, as are most people. I love visiting the local farmers markets on the weekends, stocking up on a variety of tomatoes. I've been making a simple sauce of diced tomatoes, sliced garlic, white wine and capers for EVERYTHING. Pasta, fish...it's just perfect.

Just looking at Deb's picture makes me crave an Italian white wine. (Though red would be perfectly suited to this dish as well). Last week I tried a wonderful Orvieto that would be ideal - Palazzone Terre Vineate 2010 ($14.99).  Orvieto comes from the Umbria region of Italy, and can be made from a variety of grapes. (Grechetto and Trebbiano are most common). The Grechetto brings a delightful fruitiness and weight to the wine that is simply sublime. The Terre Vineate is dry, with bright fruit and a hint of minerality. Light, easy and refreshing.

Vermentino is another white which comes to mind, widely grown in Sardinia. This varietal is aromatic, with fairly high acidity. Citrus notes and flavors of herbs and almond are common. I would not hesitate to sip a glass of Vermentino with Deb's Cherry Tomato Tart! I imagine this to be an incredible match! If you can find it, the Pala Vermentino di Sardegna I Fiore is terrific as well as a great value at $14.99.

If you simply must have a glass of red, I recommend an inexpensive Chianti, or another Sangiovese-based wine. (i.e. Vino Nobile de Montepulciano). Sangiovese is a great match for tomatoes!

Monday, August 8, 2011

upstate pleasures

This past weekend I made it up to one of my favorite farmer's market in one of my favorite towns, Saratoga Springs. This annual visit for me is always a highlight of the summer.
On the drive up from NYC, less than an hour south of Saratoga Springs, we make our first mandatory pit stop at The Rusty Anchor, a floating bar and grill docked just across from Troy, NY that serves drinks and tasty bar food in a tranquil waterside setting.
Once we have arrived in town the next stop is to leave again and hit nearby Moreau Lake State Park for swimming and hiking in a pristine woodland environment. The refreshing water soothes the soul and stimulates the flesh, getting us ready to face a day of browsing at...
the farmer's market!
Ok, now it is down to business. The pictures tell the whole story here. The vendors tables were overflowing with newly harvested treasures. There was plenty of corn and green beans to be found. The tomatoes, I am told, are a bit slow to ripen this summer but will be in abundance in a week or two. I scored some less than picture perfect tomatoes labeled "seconds" for $2 a pound, a bargain I always love.
I bought one of these long, shapely Japanese cucumbers, the price $1.00 for ONE, was irresistible.
 Ahhh, the colors!

I could have spent all day and all my money at the market, but other delights beckoned. Saratoga Springs is probably most famous for its horse racing and a visit to the track is not to be missed. How fortuitous that on Sunday Galloping Grapes, a charity wine tasting event, was going on at the racing fairgrounds. I left the handicapping and bet placing to those more experienced, like my husband, and headed over to the tasting where I plunked down my $25 to sample wines from ten NY state wineries.

I have never attended a wine tasting on this scale and I must admit, I loved it! It was very informative to be able to taste such a wide variety of wines in one setting. The proceeds of this event, sponsored by the Times Union, benefited the Capital Region's  Classroom Enrichment Program and the Times Union Hope Fund.  Drinking and helping, you know I love that!
Most of the wineries are located in the Finger Lakes region, an area that is really starting to make a presence in the wine market. I focused my tasting on the white wines and the absolute stand-out winner for me was the Glenora Wine Cellers Pinot Blanc, a really well balanced fruity crisp wine that I could see my self drinking. 

A recurring theme among the vintners was the variations on fruit wines and fruity semi-sweet wines that would taste good over ice on a hot summer day. Glenora's Peach Passion really hit the mark with a perfect fresh peach taste.

The Knapp Winery's labels are charming and playful.  They seem to have a cat thing going on.
Another good semi-sweet wine was the Knapp Winery's Vignoles, bringing a well balanced "adult" sophistication to a wine I might have considered too sugary sweet to drink with a meal.

Saratoga's own The Saratoga Winery had some reds that my husband enjoyed, particularly their Cabernet Franc. The whites still have some room to grow and I look forward to seeing their wines mature a bit.

The Atwater Estate Vineyards out of Watkins Glen was wildly popular with the Saratoga crowd and they offered a wide range of blends that were really enjoyable to sample. Their Vidal Blanc was light and fresh tasting, perfect on a hot day with a salad or some seafood.

Saratoga Springs is a town with a lot to offer for the weekend visitor, especially during track season. Every time I visit I begin to whimper that I want to move there and live in one of the quirky houses that give this town such visual charm. Well, some day, perhaps!