Category Archives: Vegetable Dishes

a ride on the marrakech express

in 2006 i had the pleasure of visiting morocco with my family. it was one of the most exciting and exotic trips i’ve ever taken, filled with an incredible range of sights, sounds, and smells. we visited one of the world’s largest mosques in casablanca, the intense and exhilarating souks of fez and marrakech, and a beautiful guest house in the atlas mountains, where you can find fresh, cool air only an hour from the desert-like landscape below.

of course the food was a highlight of the trip. delicious vegetable salads, citrus juices, flaky pies filled with poultry and eggs, and an endless range of tagines — the savory stews stuffed with meats, veggies, dried fruits, spices, or any and all of the above. we ate all of these dishes and more for a week, often accompanied by some impressive belly dancing. but no trip to morocco would be complete without towering plates of couscous, the delicate grains enhanced by veggies, meats, legumes, and a rich and savory broth.

with summer turning quickly into fall here in the u.s., i decided that a moroccan-inspired couscous would be the perfect way to use summer’s vibrant harvest in a warm and satisfying way. in vermont during the first half of the labor day weekend, i picked up some beautiful zucchini, a bright red pepper, and a handful of soft and sugary plum tomatoes. back in new york, i flipped through some of my kitchen standbys and found a recipe in the joy of cooking for couscous with zucchini and cherry tomatoes. it calls for quick-cooking couscous, which comes out fluffy and hearty with an absolute minimum of effort. with this as a base, i tossed in some homemade veggie stock i had saved and a can of chickpeas from the pantry. i also swirled in some spices along the lines of ras el hanout, the standard and spectacular moroccan mix. the result was a comforting and healthy dish that will put you in the mood for a ride on the marrakech express!

vegetable and chickpea couscous with moroccan spices

serves 4-6

3 tbsp olive oil

1 medium onion, cut into small dice

3 cloves garlic, minced

3 cups vegetable stock (or stock of your choice), warmed

3 small zucchini, cut into 1/2-inch thick half-moons

1 red/orange/yellow pepper, seeded and cut into 1/2-inch squares

2 tsp dried herbes de provence

1 1/2 cups quick-cooking couscous (i prefer whole grain)

1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed

3 large plum tomatoes, seeded and cut into 1/2-inch squares

salt and pepper

for ras el hanout

1 1/2 tsp ground ginger

1/2 tsp each: ground black pepper, ground allspice, ground nutmeg, ground cardamom, ground cinnamon, ground turmeric, ground coriander, ground cloves, and ground red pepper flakes (if you don’t have all the spices, just add whatever you have!)

1. for the ras el hanout, mix all ingredients in a small bowl.

2. heat 2 tbsp of the olive oil in a large dutch oven or pot over medium heat. saute the onions, stirring occasionally, until lightly golden, 6-8 minutes. add garlic and cook, stirring, another 2 minutes.

3. add the warm stock, stir in the ras el hanout, then add the zucchini. bring to a brisk simmer and cook, partially covered, for 3 minutes. add the peppers and simmer for another 4 minutes. do not let the vegetables get fully tender.

4. turn off the heat. stir in the couscous, chickpeas, herbes de provence, and 1 tbsp olive oil. mix all ingredients well in the pot. cover and let stand 8-10 minutes, until the stock is absorbed (or a bit sooner if you like a brothier dish). everything will be perfectly tender.

5. stir in the tomatoes and serve immediately, with a drizzle of olive oil if you like. add salt and pepper to taste.

shiso garlic fried rice

shiso is an amazing herb, also known as perilla leaf, that my husband and i discovered through our love of korean food. it is a beautiful, heart-shaped leaf with an excellent flavor that is unfortunately difficult to describe! shiso is related to mint, so it has a similar taste, but with a hint of spiciness and tanginess that lends itself so well to all types of asian cooking. at do hwa, one of our favorite korean restaurants, shiso leaf is often provided as a wrapper for korean barbeque. it can also be found in a delicious zucchini, perilla leaf, and chili pepper scallion pancake. at another of our favorite restaurants, en japanese brasserie, shiso leaf is featured in a decadent garlic shiso fried rice. we became immediate fans after ordering this dish the first time.

last summer we were inspired to try growing some shiso of our own. it started out small, and we figured it wasn’t meant the rocky vermont soil, but then in mid-august it started flourishing. the abundant stems with large, deep green leaves inspired us to try our hand at imitating en’s dish, even though we didn’t have a recipe. this summer shiso was a must-have in our garden. and while we still haven’t mastered the full flavor and rich umami that en japanese brasserie achieves, the dish we came up with is delicious and satistfying. we also took the liberty of adding 2 vegetable sides to make a full meal out of the fried rice. add a nice carafe of sake and you will be on your way to a very zen evening of healthy and satisfying food.

sauteed bok choy

sauteed shitake mushrooms

shiso garlic fried rice

serves 4

2 cups brown rice

1 4″ piece ginger, peeled and minced

1 head garlic, minced

3 cups shiso leaves (about 2 cups roughly chopped)

3/4 cup canola oil

1/2 cup sesame oil

1/2 cup soy sauce

4 large heads of bok choy, roughly chopped

1 lb shitake mushrooms, thickly sliced

1. put rice and 3 1/2 cups water in a medium pot, bring to a boil, stir once, then cover and reduce to a simmer. cook until rice is done and all the water is gone, about 30-40 minutes. set aside.

2. heat 1/4 cup canola oil in a large skillet over medium heat. add the sliced shitakes and cook, stirring infrequently, until the mushrooms are soft and lightly browned, about 20 minutes. add 1/8 cup sesame oil and 1/8 cup soy sauce to deglaze the pan and let simmer for 5 minutes. then remove from the heat and set aside.

3. heat another 1/4 cup canola oil in a large skillet over medium heat. add the chopped bok choy and cook, stirring occasionally, until the leaves are wilted and the stems are cooked through, about 15 minutes. add 1/8 cup sesame oil and 1/8 cup soy sauce to deglaze the pan and let simmer for 5 minutes. then remove from the heat and set aside.

4. heat the remaining 1/4 cup canola oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat. add the garlic and the ginger and stir frequently until soft, about 8 minutes. add the shiso leaf and cook, stirring, for another 5 minutes. add the rice and stir until heated through.

5. serve the bok choy and mushrooms on top of the shiso garlic fried rice, seasoning with the remaining sesame oil and soy sauce to taste.

note: if you want to get creative, here are some optional additions. for those of you that enjoy a little more heat, garnish with a dash of spicy sesame oil! if you are craving protein, add some cubed tofu (or the cooked protein of your choice) to the bok choy at the same time as you deglaze the pan. and maybe sprinkle some toasted sesame seeds on top of the finished dish for a little extra texture and flavor. have fun and enjoy!

deglaze: to use liquid to remove browned bits of food from the bottom of a pan, which adds flavor to and thickens pan sauces.

truffle-roasted corn and kohlrabi soup

with all the rainy days that have been sneaking into our summer this year, i’ve been feeling the need for something warm and comforting. but i didn’t want something heavy; it’s still summer after all! the perfect ingredient for such a meal is now piling up at your local farmer’s markets and grocery stores, and it’s the food network’s summerfest ingredient of the week… sweet corn!

sweet corn is hands down one of my favorite ingredients. it is crisp and juicy eaten raw on the cob (don’t eat too much or you’ll get a stomach ache) and it melts in your mouth with sweetness when you boil it, roast it, grill it, saute it, or make it into soup, which is exactly what i did. i love corn chowder because it allows me to fully savor this wonderful ingredient in a slightly more civilized manner. (my usual approach is to gnaw through several ears of corn on the cob in a matter of minutes.) and this week, i decided to see just how sophisticated corn chowder can be. the answer is, very!

the following recipe was inspired by a temporary vegetarian column i read last year and a similar recipe in sustainably delicious, an amazing cookbook i came across at a blow-out sale at borders. the soup starts with the simple combination of corn and onions, with a just a bit of fat-free greek yogurt, which adds creaminess without the fat. if you like a little extra tanginess, try using goat’s milk yogurt instead. from there i decided to leave the well-trodden path with the addition of a garnish made from roasted corn and kohlrabi and crisped kohlrabi greens tossed with truffle oil. the wonderfully earthy flavors of kohlrabi and truffle oil blended so well with the corn that i couldn’t believe it had taken me this long to combine these ingredients. this soup is a perfect combination of fresh-from-the-garden, summer cooking, with a hint of classy complexity. serve it at your next summer soiree and your guests will swoon!

truffle-roasted corn and kohlrabi chowder

serves 6

2 onions, diced

4 tablespoons unsalted butter or olive oil

9 ears of corn

2 kohlrabi, medium-small diced

Greens from 2 kohlrabi, stemmed and thinly sliced

1/2 cup goat’s milk yogurt (or plain yogurt)

2 teaspoons salt

freshly ground white pepper

2 tablespoons truffle oil

1 tablespoon olive oil

1. preheat oven to 350°f.

2. cut the kernels off 6 ears of corn and set aside, reserving the cobs. in a large saucepan, combine the cobs, 1 of the diced onions, and 8 cups of water.

3. place over high heat and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium. cover and cook for 20 minutes. turn off the heat and leave covered for an additional 30 minutes.

4. while the corncobs are cooking, coat the diced kohlrabi and 3 whole ears of corn with 1 tablespoon of truffle oil and 1 tablespoon of olive oil. spread out on a baking sheet and roast in the oven for about 40 minutes, stirring occasionally until evenly brown. remove from oven and cool slightly. cut the kernels off the cobs, toss with the kohlrabi in an additional ½ tablespoon of truffle oil, lightly season with salt and pepper, and set aside. discard the cobs.

5. place a large saucepan over medium-low heat and add the butter or olive oil. add the remaining diced onion and sauté until soft and translucent, but not browned, about 20 minutes. add raw corn kernels and sauté until slightly translucent, about 5 minutes. remove from heat and set aside.

6. when stock has finished steeping, strain it, discarding the cobs and onions. add 6 cups of stock to the pot of corn kernels. return to medium heat and simmer for about 15 minutes.

7. allow the soup to cool. working in batches, blend the soup in a food processor or blender until the soup is smooth*. return to pot and reheat on medium until hot. then turn heat to low, stir in the yogurt, and season with salt and pepper.

8. In a small saute pan, heat a small amount of olive oil over medium-low heat. add the sliced kohlrabi greens and allow them to cook, stirring infrequently, for about 5 minutes, or until crisp and bright green. add the greens to the roast kohlrabi and corn.

9. garnish each bowl with a large spoonful of the roasted kohlrabi, corn, and greens mixture and a few drops of additional truffle oil before serving.

*when blending soup in a food processor or blender, it helps to start with the solid ingredients, and slowly add in small amounts of liquid. this helps ensure that all the solids are pureed.

feel like husking more corn? check these fabulous recipes out:

Dishin and Dishes: Kicked Up Creamed Corn From Scratch
Big Girls Small Kitchen: Fresh Corn Salsa with Basil and Mint
Zaika Zabardast: Fresh Corn Risotto
What’s Gaby Cooking: Spicy Corn Salsa
CICooking Channel: Fresh Corn Muffins
Food for 7 Stages of Life: Corn on the Cob Korma
FN Dish: Southwest Corn Recipes
Daily*Dishin: Sweet Corn and Couscous Main Dish Salad
Pinch My Salt: Peter Reinhart’s Fresh Cut Corn Bread with Bacon
Napa Farmhouse 1885: Corn & Watermelon Salad
Virtually Homemade: Summer Corn Salad
Food2: Creamed Corn Cornbread
Virtually Vegan Mama: Thai Corn Soup
Sunshine and Smile: Scallops with Corn and Pepper Sauce
Spices N Aroma: Corn Pilaf
The Sensitive Epicure: Fresh Corn Fritters with Chive Lemon Chipotle Yogurt (Gluten-Free)
Dixie Chick Cooks: Fresh Corn with Basil Slaw and Feta
Cooking With Books: Corn Favorites
Purple Cook: Corn on the Cob with Cilantro

Glory Foods: Skillet Corn Muffins

summer tomato soup

last week i was inspired by mark bittman’s article “the proper ways to treat an heirloom.” his recipes were so mouthwatering that i had to try one. the outcome of the garlicky pappa al pomodoro was so enjoyable that i will definitely be trying all his suggestions in due course.

heirloom tomatoes are such a treat, both in flavor and in appearance. they may seem a bit misshapen at first, but their bulges and crevices disguise a fruit that is incredibly flavorful and sweet. and yes, they can be expensive, but they are worth it. you have to try them at least once so that you will know what the full potential of a tomato can be. i am partial to the rosy pinks, the yellow-oranges, and the dark brownish-reds. but go ahead, taste all the colors you can find and see which ones you like best!

when you’ve picked out your favorites, follow bittman’s super-simple recipe, and in no time you will be savoring a steaming soup filled with the sweetness of summer tomatoes and a delicate kick of garlic. however, if you have the patience for one extra step, i recommend trading in the shredded day-old bread for some herbed croutons. with the fresh croutons adding an extra layer of seasoning this soup is so good you might have to start growing tomatoes on your own just to keep up with the demand!

herbed croutons

serves 6 as a garnish

4 slices of bread, cut into 1/3″ thick cubes (i suggest something dark and whole-grain for extra flavor)

1 teaspoon each minced fresh rosemary, thyme, oregano, and tarragon (or any and all herbs you have on hand)

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/8 cup olive oil

1. preheat oven to 300°f.

2. toss bread cubes in a bowl with the olive oil, herbs, and salt. spread evenly on a foil-lined baking sheet.

3. bake for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned and hard.

4. if you have leftover croutons, keep them in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 2 weeks. they are also delicious in salads!

my penne alla siciliana

even in the heat of summer, a steaming dish of pasta with fresh tomato sauce, vibrant veggies, and gooey mozzarella is never out of place. for me, the standard is set by pizzeria da paolo, an amazing pizzeria and italian restaurant in geneva, switzerland, where i lived for 2 years. their penne alla siciliana–penne, tomato sauce, sliced eggplants, and mozzarella, baked to bubbly perfection–is simple, fresh, hearty, and comforting all at the same time.

since beautiful tomatoes and eggplants abound at the farmer’s market this time of year, i decided the time was right for a baked pasta dish this week. first i made a big batch of homemade tomato sauce with fresh yellow and red tomatoes from old athens farm in vermont. i like to use the basic tomato sauce recipe from mario batali’s cookbook, molto italiano. it’s straightforward and makes a delicious sauce. batali’s recipe calls for canned tomatoes, which are almost always best because of their consistent quality, except at the peak of summer when the fresh ones are so delicious. keep in mind that when using fresh tomatoes, it’s important to seed them so you don’t end up with lots of seeds in the sauce, and it may take a bit more reducing to get rid of the extra liquid. but it’s worth it in the long run.

then i roasted some chopped eggplant, zucchini, and cauliflower in order to pack my pasta with vegetable goodness. to roast the vegetables, cut them into bite-size pieces or slices, coat with olive oil, and spread onto a baking sheet in a single layer. roast at 400°f for about 30 minutes, flipping once, or until the vegetables are lightly browned and soft. next, cook your pasta (fusilli, penne, or smalls shells work well) for 2 minutes less than the usual cooking time. now all your ingredients will be ready for assembly…

layers of tomato-y goodness, veggies, and pasta

first, take a large casserole dish and spread a third of the tomato sauce in the bottom of the dish. then add half the pasta, half the vegetables, another third of the tomato sauce,  some optional fresh basil or other herbs, and half your mozzarella. start again with the remaining pasta, vegetables, tomato sauce, basil/herbs, and mozzarella. bake the whole dish at 400°f for 15 minutes, or until the dish is heated through and the mozzarella is fully melted.

this delicious, comforting dish is easy to put together and easy to personalize. you can use any vegetables you have on hand, or just stick to tomato sauce, pasta, and cheese. either way you are in for a treat that makes great leftovers.

melted mozzarella seals the deal!

presto, pesto

another wonderful weekend in vermont, another successful trip to the farmers’ market to procure an abundance of delicious vegetables, and another round of recipes to help you enjoy what the summer garden has to offer!

since i won’t be in vermont again for a few weeks, i thought this would be a good time to share some recipes that allow you to savor the fresh, intense flavor of seasonal vegetables even when you can’t eat them all right away–or if you just want them to last a little longer. first on the list this week is pesto. fresh garlic is piled high at the farmers’ market, basil is looking and smelling vibrant and delicious, and i know that in a few months i will be sorely missing these fresh goodies. pesto is the legendary sauce from liguria, on the italian riviera, that combines the pungent tastes of basil and garlic with the smooth flavors of parmesan cheese, pine nuts, and olive oil. my family’s version is less of a sauce and more of a spread, since we like to cram it as full as possible of all the yummy ingredients. it still works perfectly on pasta, but it’s also an excellent topper for sandwiches and omelettes. or you can eat it right out of the jar to keep the vampires away!  even better, it is easy to make and lasts for several weeks in the fridge and even longer when frozen.

there are many variations of pesto. some use arugula or other spicy greens instead of basil, and sometimes different nuts take the place of the pignoli. the recipe below is the product of years of tinkering by my mother and me, experimenting with different amounts of all the ingredients, and testing the results on friends and family. we are all head over heels in love with this pesto in my family. we make a new batch almost every weekend during the summer, and at the end of august we make a massive batch intended to last us a few months into the fall. in this spirit, i invite you to try the recipe below, and then try out some experiments of your own! you will be happy you did come october, when you can open your freezer to find a jar still bursting with the freshness of summer.

some of the beautiful ingredients

pesto

makes 4 cups

5 large bunches basil, washed and dried, then de-stemmed (i find it easiest to wash and dry the basil in bunches, hanging them to dry, before removing the leaves from the stems)

1/2 cup whole garlic cloves (a word of caution, my family likes a lot of garlic. if you like a little less garlic in your food, feel free to decrease this quantity. otherwise, just make anyone you plan on kissing later eat the pesto too!)

1 1/2 cups grated parmesan

1/2 cup pine nuts

1/3 cup walnuts

1 cup olive oil

1. put the garlic in a food processor and mince finely.

2. add the basil, parmesan, nuts, and olive oil.

3. pulse for about 10 1-second pulses. then taste and adjust ingredients as needed. repeat this step until you are happy with the balance of flavors, then pulse until the pesto reaches your desired consistency.

4. pour a thin coating of olive oil into the bottom of a glass jar. spoon the pesto in, pausing frequently to tamp down the pesto in the jar to eliminate air pockets. when the jar is full, top with a thin coating of olive oil.

5. after each use, a thin coating of olive oil will prevent the remaining pesto from browning from exposure to oxygen. however, if it does brown, this will not affect the taste or the quality of the pesto.

6. enjoy your pesto in the fridge for about 3 weeks, or freeze it for use later in the year.

once your pesto is made, it’s time to start considering how you are going to eat it. the simplest option is spooned over a steaming plate of pasta, with a little extra parmesan sprinkled on top. raise the bar a bit with a trick i learned in santa margherita, italy – plate your pasta with half pesto and half fresh marinara sauce (since tomatoes are worth gorging on while they are at their flavorful, seasonal peak). the richness of the pesto is offset beautifully by the sweet acidity of the tomatoes.

another option, if you are looking for a satisfying lunch after a morning of summer activity, is one of my favorites – the “vermont sandwich,” so-called because i created it over many such lunches at my family’s house. it’s healthy, filling, healthy, crunchy, creamy, and delicious. and it’s filled with all the veggies, protein, and whole-grain carbs you need to head back out to the garden, golf course, pool, or anywhere else your summer takes you!

vermont sandwich

serves 2

4 slices of the grainiest bread you can find (i love orchard hill breadworks’ dense spelt loaf, but any bread you love will do)

2 eggs

4 slices of your favorite cheese (i usually use our local vermont shepherd’s semi-hard cheese)

2-3 tbsp pesto, depending on the size of your sandwich

2 small handfuls of greens (i like a combination of lettuce, arugula, basil and/or any spicy asian greens that may be growing in our garden)

2 thick slices of tomato (preferably heirloom, for their succulent flavor)

salt & pepper to taste

1. fry the eggs in a small amount of butter or olive oil until cooked to your liking (i like over-easy eggs so that the yolk oozes over the whole sandwich, but that’s definitely the messy option). you can even beat the eggs first and cook small omelets for a much neater sandwich.

2. while the eggs are frying, toast the bread.

3. once the bread is toasted, first spread half the pesto on each bottom slice. then add the tomato, greens, cheese, and one fried egg (with the white folded as needed to fit on the bread), and season to taste. top with the second slice of bread, grab a few napkins, and open wide!

asian greens: refers to greens such as tatsoi, bok choi, mustard greens, mizuna, shiso, and many others that are delicious raw while they are young and tender.

take a gander at gooseberries

another highly enjoyable weekend in vermont has come to a close. and once again there was no shortage of activity both in the kitchen and out. the garden is thriving, despite the heat wave, with a nice crop of yellow wax beans, a handful of fava beans, some cherry tomatoes, and plenty of spicy asian greens, lettuce, and arugula. even the bees were busy!

this weekend everyone was in the mood for a little grilling, and my mom found some savory rabbit sausages at the walpole grocery in walpole, nh. we had the meat, we just needed the rest of the meal. sam sifton’s article on biscuits this week helped steer us in a southern direction, so in addition to biscuits we added some braised kale. the only thing left to make was some kind of sauce that would compliment the sausages and give us something to dip our biscuits in.

conveniently, we had a pint of red gooseberries lying around that my dad had picked up during the week. gooseberries are an underappreciated summer fruit that look–and taste–like a cross between a cranberry and a grape. They’re a little sour for eating alone, but perfect for any kind of cooked preparation, with a bit of a sugary assist.

i considered making a crisp or jam with the gooseberries, but we had already baked a blueberry-peach pie the night before, so the last thing we needed was more dessert! however, the tart flavor of gooseberries also makes them a wonderful addition to many savory dishes. my trusty copy of the new best recipe pointed the way, and i made some changes to their cranberry-onion confit recipe to create a gooseberry-onion confit. the entire meal was a hit — the sausages were excellent, the biscuits light and flaky, the kale tender, and the gooseberry-onion confit sweet and sour and delicious!

gooseberry-onion confit

serves 6 as a condiment

4 medium onions, thinly sliced

3 tbsp butter

1/4 cup sugar

1 pint red or green gooseberries, de-stemmed

1/4 cup red wine vinegar

1/3 cup white wine

1 tsp salt

1 tsp white pepper, ground

1. heat the butter in a large, heavy (preferably cast iron) frying pan over medium-low heat. add the onions, increase heat to medium, and cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are soft and translucent, about 25 minutes.

2. add the sugar to the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions are browned, about 15 minutes.

3. add the remaining ingredients to the pan and simmer, partially covered, for about 20 minutes, or until the confit achieves a jam-like consistency.

4. the confit can be served hot or room-temperature, or stored in the fridge for a week.

besides adding a beautiful deep green color to the whole plate that complements the red hues of the confit, the kale adds a hint of earthy flavor and ensures that you get some important nutrients, specifically vitamins A, C, and K. since kale often goes well with vinegar, and since the confit was so delicious and slightly vinegary, i thought i would go ahead and add a spoonful of the confit to the braising kale. the result was a deeply flavored kale with wonderful sweet and sour notes.

braised kale

serves 6

1 large bunch of kale, stemmed and roughly chopped

1 medium onion, thinly sliced

1 tbps olive oil

1/8 cup water

1 tbsp gooseberry-onion confit (above)

salt & pepper to taste

1. heat olive oil  in a large, heavy (preferably cast iron) frying pan over medium-low heat. add the onions, increase heat to medium, and cook, stirring occasionally until onions begin to soften, about 15 minutes.

2. add the confit and stir to mix. then add the kale, and cook partially covered, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes. add the water and continue cooking, stirring occasionally until the leaves are cooked through, about 10 minutes more. season to taste before serving.

stay cool ratatouille

with temperatures near 100°f this week, the first thing on everyone’s mind is how to stay cool. thankfully, this time of year it is easy to turn a pile of fresh vegetables into a refreshing ratatouille that is both light and satisfying. i ate this dish endlessly when i studied abroad in aix-en-provence, france, and i never tired of the incredible flavor. it’s a dish that allows the individual vegetables to shine while still creating a coherent stew, and it’s excellent hot or cold. ratatouille also encourages creativity as you can use any vegetables you have on hand and you can experiment with the flavors that different herbs and aromatics contribute to the dish. and when deciding what vegetables to use, go for color! besides being delicious, ratatouille is definitely eye-catching. whether sitting down to lunch or dinner, pair your ratatouille with a side of polenta and a cool glass of rosé and you can almost feel the fresh mediterranean breezes!

for my ratatouille i had on hand italian eggplants, red and yellow heirloom tomatoes, zucchini, yellow summer squash, and orange bell peppers–all from my usual farmer’s market in brattleboro, vermont. i was feeling ambitious this week, so i decided to follow julia child’s recipe in mastering the art of french cooking. this is a fantastic cookbook, but the recipes tend to be fairly intricate and usually involve lots of steps, such as cooking each vegetable individually for the ratatouille, then stewing together, basting often, etc. there is no doubt the end result was excellent, but i have a quicker ratatouille recipe that i usually resort to when i don’t feel like spending hours browning slices of eggplant and zucchini one by one. if that’s more your speed, check out the recipe below.

roasted ratatouille

serves 6

6 italian eggplants

3 zucchini

3 yellow summer squash

4 bell peppers

5 tomatoes

2 medium yellow onions

4 cloves garlic

1/2 cup chopped parsley

1/4 cup chopped herbs (rosemary, thyme, oregano, etc.)

1/4 cup olive oil, plus more for roasting vegetables

1. preheat the oven to 400°f. line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper and coat lightly with olive oil.

2. peel eggplant, zucchini, and summer squash and slice into 1/4″ thick slices about 3″ long and 1″ wide. cut peppers into 1″ wide slices.

3. spread the vegetables on the baking sheets in one layer. brush or spray with olive oil to coat lightly, then roast for about 30-45 minutes, or until veggies are lightly browned.

4. while the vegetables are cooking, drop the tomatoes into boiling water for about 12 seconds each, then remove quickly with a spider or large slotted spoon. as soon as they are cool, remove the peel by scoring each tomato with a paring knife and then peeling the skin with your fingers. cut the peeled tomatoes in half horizontally and remove and discard the seeds and juice. slice the tomato flesh into 1/4″ thick slices and set aside.

5. slice the onions in thin half-moons and set aside, then mince the garlic and set aside.

6. in a heavy casserole pan, heat 1/4 cup olive oil over medium heat. add the onions and cook, stirring, until soft and translucent but not brown, about 15 minutes.

7. add the garlic and cook for another 5 minutes, stirring often. then add the tomatoes and cook covered for 15 minutes, or until the tomatoes have rendered their juices.

8. turn off the heat and remove 2/3 of the onion and tomato mixture into a bowl. to the casserole add 1/2 of the roasted vegetables, sprinkle with 1/3 of the parsley and herbs, then add another 1/3 of the onion and tomatoes. repeat with the remaining vegetables and another 1/3 of the parsley and herbs. end with another layer of onions and tomatoes and parsley and herbs.

9. cover and simmer over medium low heat for 15 minutes, basting every 5 minutes with the juices that collect at the bottom of the casserole. before serving let stand half-covered for another 15 minutes to allow the juices to settle back into vegetables. the dish can also be cooled and refrigerated to eat cold or reheat the next day. the flavors of the dish will be more intense after a night of refrigeration.

beautiful and refreshing!

cooking up a side of polenta for the ratatouille is simple and is a delicious accompaniment. the cooking instructions for polenta will depend on whether or not you are using instant polenta. this has its benefits–mainly that it is very quick to make! but there is nothing that compares to the creamy, toothsome quality of slow-cooked polenta. take a little extra time to saute an aromatic of your choice in olive oil or butter, throw in as many herbs as you like, and give your arms a workout with about 25 minutes of stirring and you will be well rewarded. for the detailed directions, just follow the instructions on your polenta package. and for an extra treat, add some grated parmesan to the polenta just before it is done.

ratatouille: a dish of stewed vegetables that originated in provence. also, a fabulous movie.

aromatics: used in culinary terms to refer to ingredients such as onions, shallots, leeks, scallions, and garlic.

relishing cucumbers

i’ve recently noticed a phenomenon that occurs on summer evenings. as six o’clock rolls around and the sun is still bright and warm, no one wants to leave what they are doing, whether it’s gardening, playing outside, or reading by the pool, to prepare dinner. then at seven o’clock, everyone’s ravenous from a full day outside, and you have to scramble to get dinner ready!

however, last weekend i was experimenting with the food network’s summerfest ingredient, cucumbers, and i discovered a great solution to this problem. the answer is a quick cucumber relish that captures the crisp juiciness of summer cucumbers, adds a hint of spiciness to cut the summer heat, and packs lots of flavor into an easy-to-assemble condiment that can be used on a number of great summer dishes. you can make this relish in the morning, or when you pause for lunch, or even during a late-afternoon break, and it will be ready and waiting by the time dinner rolls around.

quick cucumber relish

makes 3 cups

2 medium cucumbers, cut into medium dice

2 fresh red chili peppers, finely chopped (more seeds = spicier relish)

1/2 cup red wine vinegar

1/2 cup water

1/4 cup granulated sugar

1/2 tsp salt

1 tsp whole peppercorns (any color)

4 tbsp basil, cut into chiffonade

1. place all ingredients except the basil in a medium saucepan and simmer over medium heat for 10 minutes. remove from the stove and allow to cool for 1o minutes.

2. once cool, add the basil and pour the mixture into a glass jar. seal the jar tightly and chill in the refrigerator until ready to use. relish is ready to use once fully chilled and will keep for one week.

ready to serve!

i also had some fresh sardines on hand this weekend, and i felt they would be an excellent base for the relish, so i decided to give them a quick dip in some cornmeal and sear them in a frying pan. then i plated them up with the relish on top. it was a delicious contrast, the cool and crunchy cucumbers providing a perfect foil for the rich and oily fish under their crispy coating. but the relish would also be a great accompaniment to your standard grill items — burgers, hot dogs, and grilled chicken. i could also see it as a flavor accent on top of asian dishes such as fried rice or peanut-sesame noodles. however you choose to enjoy it, i’m sure you won’t be disappointed!

crisp cornmeal sardines

serves 4

12 fresh sardines, cleaned and left whole

1/4 cup olive oil

2 eggs

1 cup cornmeal

3 tsp garlic powder

3 tsp salt

3 tsp ground pepper

1. remove the heads of the sardines with a chef’s knife, then rinse and place them on a paper towel to dry.

2. beat the eggs in a shallow bowl and set aside. in another bowl, mix together the cornmeal, garlic powder, salt, and pepper.

4. heat the olive oil in a large frying pan over medium heat until it begins to ripple. one by one, dip the sardines into the eggs, then into the cornmeal until evenly coated, and place in the frying pan.

6. cook the sardines for about 6 minutes per side, or until golden brown. remove from the pan and place on a plate to strain (do not place on a paper towel or they will loose their crispness). then serve, 3 to a plate, with a healthy spoonful of relish on top.

note: many people find sardines difficult to eat because of the small bones, but the crispy cornmeal coating disguises these bones easily and you can simply swallow them up. however, don’t forget that you should remove the vertebrae; these bones are larger and will not be pleasant to eat. the best way to eat a cooked sardine is to lay it on its side and then, with your fork and knife, gently pull away pieces of the filet facing up. This will leave the vertebrae exposed, and the whole spine can be lifted off the remaining filet with a fork and knife and put aside. then you are free to enjoy the second filet.

if you crave more cucumbers, check out these great blogs:

Pinch My Salt: Chilled Cucumber, Kefir and Avocado Soup

What’s Gaby Cooking: Cucumber-Basil Gimlet

In Jennie’s Kitchen: Radish-Cucumber Crostini

Big Girl Small Kitchen: Spicy Cucumber Salad with Shallot, Ginger and Mint

Grecian Kitchen: Summer Cucumber Salad

And Love It Too: Cucumber, Mint and Watermelon Salad

Napa Farmhouse 1885: Cucumbers Coolers with Agave Simple Syrup

Cooking With My Kid: Cucumber Limeade

FN Dish: Summer Fest: Cucumber Recipes

Healthy Eats: Cool Cucumber Soup

Food for 7 Stages of Life: Cucumber Cherry Salsa

Cooking With Elise: Green Tea Cucumber Pops

Glory Foods: Cucumber and Shrimp Boat

Virtually Vegan Mama: Fire-Roasted Tomato and Cucumber Gazpacho

Food2: When Life Gives You Cucumbers, Make a Cucumber Cocktail

Cooking Channel: Cucumbers Stuffed with Crab-Mango Salad

Recipe Girl: Bread and Butter Pickles

Taste With the Eyes: Spicy Pickled Cucumbers with Wakame and Garlic Blossoms

Virtually Homemade: Cold Thai Cucumber-Mint Soup

Add a Pinch: Cucumber Tea Sandwiches

The Cultural Dish: Ahi Tuna with Cucumber Sauce and Salad

Daily*Dishin: Cool n’ Zesty Cukes: 7 Minute Summer in a Jar

Daydreamer Desserts: Cubanita Margarita

Purple Cook: Cucumber Gazpacho with Indian Flavored Shrimp Relish

Indian Simmer: Cucumber at its Best with Chaat Masala

Big Apple Nosh: Quick and Easy Homemade Pickles

Sweet Life Bake: Agua de Pepino

The Sensitive Epicure: Tzatziki with Grilled Gluten-Free Pitas and Fresh Cucumbers and Peppers

Zaika Zabardast: Cucumber Gazpacho

A Way to Garden: Cucumber-Growing Q&A and the Best Pickles

Cooking with Books: Summer Fest: Cucumbers

savoring vermont

after a long absence, my husband and i finally made it up to visit my family’s house in vermont this weekend. what i look forward to most on the drive up is the first breath of fresh air when i arrive and get out of the car. the air is so full of heady scents – flowers, earth, sun – that it just has to be healthy. i highly recommend visiting vermont. if you need any pointers you can find information at http://www.vermontvacation.com.

after a few deep breaths, next on my list is always a quick stroll around the property to check on all the fun things we have growing. this time around i was most looking forward to seeing my watermelon plants – pretty vines, but no melons yet – and the peach tree that we planted in 2010. much to our surprise it already has fruit! i don’t think they’ll grow into fully edible peaches, since it’s not due to bear fruit for another 3 years, but they are cute and fuzzy nonetheless.

after a good night’s rest, we woke up bright and early saturday to head to the brattleboro farmers’ market, where i have to try very hard not to buy everything in sight. i have been going to this farmers’ market every summer for at least 15 years and it continues to get better and better. in addition to the many beautiful fruit and vegetable stands, there are now many vendors offering thai, indian, tex-mex, and even malian cuisine to go. this is very convenient, since after an hour of looking at, tasting, and buying produce i can get quite hungry!

so, what was on the shopping list this weekend? we stocked up on tomatoes, eggplants, and summer squash from old athens farm since we plan on making a ratatouille later this week. crisp salad greens, deep green kale, perpetual spinach,  and some fabulous-looking purple kohlrabi came from walnut ridge farm. and we bought some amazing fresh garlic and asian cucumbers from akogi farm (stock up: fresh garlic has a short season, and the old garlic with papery skin gets you through the winter but it’s not nearly as tasty). we also made sure to buy as many pints of blueberries as we could carry for pie!

to accompany our blueberry-peach crumble (see below), my amazing husband also took a small road trip to hanover, nh to procure some gelato from morano gelato, a small artisanal shop started last year by a friend of his. there is no doubt that the 2 hour round trip was well worth it. we had sweet milk, dark chocolate, biscotto, and coconut gelatos as well as strawberry sorbet, and they were all excellent with the crumble!

there are obviously many excellent farmers’ markets in new york city and popping up all over the country. you should check out one near you because the taste and quality of local produce is always miles above what you find in the supermarket. and in addition you will be supporting your local farmers and artists! your reward will be the chance to whip up a few of the following dishes:

blueberry-peach crisp

filling

4 cups blueberries (fresh or frozen, though fresh is far preferable. if using frozen, thaw and strain out excess liquid thoroughly before cooking.)

2 cups peaches (same as blueberries)

1 tablespoon tapioca starch or cornstarch

1/2 cup sugar

topping (from my “grown-up cherry crumble”)

3/4 cup whole spelt flour (or flour of your choice)

1/3 cup light brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, chilled and cut into about 24 pieces

1/4 cup chopped walnuts

1/4 cup ground almonds

1/4 cup rolled oats

1. preheat the oven to 350°f.

2. in a large bowl, mix the blueberries, peaches, tapioca starch, and sugar and let stand for about 10 minutes.

3. pour the mixture evenly into a 9″ pie plate and bake for about 30 minutes, or until the mixture begins to bubble. be sure to place a sheet pan or tin foil under the pie plate in the oven to catch any overflowing bubbles of fruit!

4. while the fruit is baking, prepare the crumble topping. combine the flour, sugar, salt, and cinnamon in a medium bowl. mix the butter in with your fingers until the mixture resembles coarse meal. add the walnuts, almonds, and oats and toss lightly to combine.

4. when ready, remove the pie from the oven and place on a heat proof surface. spoon the topping mixture evenly over the fruit mixture and return the pie to the oven. bake for another 30 minutes, or until the topping is golden brown. again, be sure to place a sheet pan or tin foil under the pie plate while baking.

Cucumber mango salad 

serves 4

1 large mango

1 large asian cucumber

4 cups arugula

16 mint leaves

1/2 cup hazelnuts, crushed

1/2 lemon, juiced

1/4 cup olive oil

1/4 cup yogurt (i used sheep’s milk yogurt from vermont shepherd)

salt and pepper to taste

1. slice the mango in half vertically, cutting to each side of the pit to make two halves. peel the skin off each half with a paring knife. then slice each half the short way into half moon slices about 1/4″ thick. set aside.

2. using a vegetable peeler, first peel the cucumber. then shave into long slices, going the entire length of the cucumber if possible. set aside.

3. to prepare the dressing, whisk together the lemon juice, olive oil, and yogurt. add a pinch of salt and a pinch of ground pepper.

4. to assemble the salad, place the arugula in the bottom of a bowl or plate. curl the cucumber slices into loops and place on top of the arugula, interspersed with the mango pieces. sprinkle with hazelnuts and a few mint leaves. then spoon the dressing on top and serve!

perpetual spinach: another name for swiss chard.

kohlrabi: a member of the cabbage family.

asian cucumbers: usually about 18″ long, slender, and slightly ridged. they are denser and have fewer seeds than a regular cucumber.