Monday, August 27, 2012

back from the benefit

Tomatoes were piled high at every farm stand between Riverhead and East Hampton this weekend. How many could I carry? How many could I fit in the car was the question. I was on the East End of Long Island to cater a benefit for Wellness in the Schools and my car was already stuffed with serving platters, ice buckets, cocktail napkins, everything we would need to host 200 guests playing tennis matches for a worthy charity on this magnificent summer weekend.

I fit quite a few tomatoes into the car as it turns out, after I wrangled a tiny bit more breathing room in the trunk on the trip home. Buying "seconds" in bulk is hard to resist. I can't help envisioning some major canning or freezing process that will take place when I get them home. By the time I unpacked everything last night, my tomatoes had sustained enough bruises to call an ambulance. Slow roasting seemed like the way to go.

-slow roasted tomatoes-
They are in the oven right now and my whole house smells like a pizzeria. The oven is set at 250 degrees. The tomatoes, cut in half, are dressed with olive oil, salt, pepper and thyme, and a few whole garlic cloves thrown in. I am going to leave them in the oven until the tomatoes shrink a bit and the flavors concentrate, for maybe three or four hours, which will leave them still a bit fleshy, but with a concentrated tomato flavor.  Many recipes call for a six hour roasting, to really collapse the tomato, but that is not my plan today. I will puree the tomatoes when when they come out of the oven to make a richly flavored tomato sauce.

The Benefit was so much fun! Teams of tennis pros paired up with skilled tennis players to compete in doubles matches on the beautiful courts at SPORTIME Amagansett.  The games were serious, but good natured and everyone worked up an appetite.
Plenty of snacks were on hand to keep hungry players focused and energized. Hampton Chutney treated us to guacamole and tortilla chips, to serve alongside my hummas and pita chips.

Turf Lobster Rolls left their primo selling spot on the uber popular Montauk surfing beach, Ditch Plains, to knock us out with over-stuffed lobster rolls. Who could stop to take a picture when you are so busy eating? Take my word for it, they were gorgeous and disappeared in an instant.

People's Pops kept everyone cool with ice cones shaved from a solid block of ice. The cones got doused with a choice of organic lemon syrup or watermelon syrup. Perfectly cooling, and perfectly cool watching the cones being made!
Satur Farms, located on the North Fork, donated these eye-catching edible flowers I used to garnish the salads. There was some skepticism among the children as to how something so magical looking could actually be eaten. Several asked me to describe the taste. Ahem, yummy!

Montaco wound up the feast by serving up a choice of bean, chicken or fish tacos from their hot pink tricked-out food truck.

W├Âlffer Estate Vineyard, a local winery in Sagaponack NY,  generously donated their Classic White Table Wine. I got to try a glass and it struck me as a perfect pairing for my escarole gratin recipe. I am going to pick up a few bottles to try that.

The day was a huge success. The crew from Sportime were a dream to work with. I highly recommend their facility. The food vendors who joined us were incredibly generous and fun to work with. Everyone made my job so easy I won't even spend one word here complaining about the Hampton's traffic. 

I can't believe it is the end of the summer season. We still have many weeks of great produce coming in from the farms, but it is a given that the days are growing shorter. 

Have a great Labor day weekend!!!

Monday, August 13, 2012

off to the country

The air is completely still and warmly heavy. The sweet, resiny smell of pine mingles with the mineral scent of the marshy mud surrounding the lake. We are hiking in the foothills of the Adirondacks, in the woods surrounding the banks of Lake George trying to find the trail to Shelving Rock Falls and my senses have taken over. I hear far off birds chattering away, now the buzz of an insect getting too close. I wait expectantly for the hopeful sound of leaves shuffling, the signal that a gentle breeze has arrived to relieve the heat.
Not being the most ambitious of hikers, I still love being out in the woods. Short climbs along a well marked trail are just the kind of activity my husband and I will commit to on a hot day. Exploring the Saratoga Springs area rewards us with many options for simple hikes in pristine wooded parks and state forests within 20 miles of the town that is famous for its spring waters, thoroughbred race track and the highlight for me: the fantastic farmers' market held twice a week.
 I am always on the lookout for places to swim. Most of these little ponds are too shallow and clogged with algae for such an enterprise.
The dense forest provides some relief from the heat of the day.
Once I have stomped out of the woods I am ready to eat. The Saratoga farmers' market has been particularly rewarding this summer. As food writer Melissa Clark rightly noted in the NY Times last week- we are being blessed with a perfect tomato season, so grab them up while they last.
 The vendors at the Saratoga market DO NOT sell things cheaply. sigh. I hunted around, poking over every table and found these cherry tomatoes on sale for $1 a box. Excellent! The hunt paid off.

This heirloom variety is new to me. They are so attractive and look like picture perfect plums.

Even with the high prices, it is hard to stay in a bad mood at a beautiful market like this. I actually got teary eyed looking at all the magnificent produce. So much good food, so little time to cook and eat it. I over-shop as usual when presented with such abundance.
Several vendors were offering squash blossoms. These are particularly lovely. Seventy five cents each and they melt in your mouth in one bite, especially when stuffed with something yummy like cheese, and then lightly battered and fried. Sigh. I have a few zucchini plants in my backyard and will wait to harvest the flowers from them.
Green beans are glorious this time of year. Tender, nutty and bursting with juicy freshness. When I see them with a smooth straight shape, I know they are good. Once their seeds start to grow the bean gets misshapen and the flavor declines dramatically. Never buy a lumpy green bean!
I settle on a menu of pan-glazed carrots and a corn risotto. The carrots are finger sized and have an earthy sweetness. No need to peel them if you give them a good scrub to remove surface dirt.
Corn is readily available everywhere now. I made quick work of getting the corn off the husk for the risotto dish. My technique is to lay the cob flat down on the cutting board and run my knife along the sides of the cob. I am mystified by the insistence of so many cooks to hold the cob perpendicular to the cutting board and run the knife down the length of the cob. That approach makes no sense, it is messy and overly dramatic.

For the risotto recipe I use local upstate wine from Johnston's Winery. I had the chance to sample their Chardonnay at the Galloping Grapes wine tasting event at the race track last Sunday. The Johnston's Chardonnay was by far my favorite wine of the tasting; fruity and complex with a pleasing and nicely balanced flavor. I am pretty crazy about their cheeky label too!

-r e c i p e s-

Corn Risotto

 -for this recipe I use water instead of stock to cook the rice, a technique I picked up from Lidia Bastianich. The advantage is a more delicately flavored risotto where the fragrance of the wine infuses the dish.

2 Tbs. butter
1 Tbs. olive oil
1 cup of fresh corn, removed from the cob
1 shallot, minced
1 cup risotto rice
1/2 cup white wine
salt and pepper to taste
3 cups boiling water
1 sprig of fresh thyme
1/2 cup soft goat cheese

Melt the butter in a large saute pan. Add the shallot and saute for 4 minutes till the shallot softens and browns a bit. Add the corn and stir to coat the corn in the butter and oil. Continue to stir and cook under medium heat for another minute or two. Add the risotto rice and stir to coat the grains. Add the salt and pepper to taste. Add the wine and lower the heat in the pan. Let the wine cook down into the rice and absorb all the liquid.

Begin to add the boiling water a 1/2 cup at a time, allowing the water to cook down completely into the rice before adding more. When the rice is tender but still chewy add the thyme and the goat cheese and stir to combine.

Pan Glazed Carrots

 -baby or small carrots with their gorgeous green tresses still attached are best for this dish. I used Johnston's Winery's Strawberry wine to deglaze the pan.

1 pound of carrots
1 Tbs Butter
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/4 cup sweet white wine (if you use dry wine and add a dash more sugar and or a splash of good quality balsamic vinegar)

Trim the carrots into 2-3 inch pieces length-wise and then half width so they are all about the same size. Leave a bit of the attached root on the carrot for a rustic, farmy touch.
Heat the butter in a saute pan and add the carrots, the salt and the sugar, sauteing for about 5-8 minutes till the carrots begin to soften and caramelize. Add the wine and lower the heat, allowing the wine to simmer slowly and the carrots to finish cooking till tender, about 3-5 more minutes.

Mange Bien!