I’ve figured out the secret…

21 09 2008

I’ve figured out the secret to eating seasonally.  Lore has it that the food tastes so good, it’ll spoil you for everything less.  I’d say that’s at least 75% of it.  Since either buying produce at the farmer’s market or growing it, the bar has definitely been raised.  I do think there is another factor at work:

If you eat what you grow and you have a lot of it, you may end up so tired of a particular vegetable that the next thing in line tastes even better for it.   If you’re not the type of person who escapes the kitchen for a local restaurant, I imagine this is magnified 10-fold.

(I am getting tired of tomatoes.  I don’t think it is PC to actually say that you are tired of eating tomatoes off the vine, but I am getting there.  I was doing OK keeping up with the tomatoes up until a couple of weeks ago, but having had to take time away from the garden, I am way, way, way behind.  The chard has been tackled.  The pak choi has been partially tackled.  It was time to deal with the tomatoes. Next, while I am letting some of the green beans go to seed, I really should continue picking the rest.  I keep thinking they are done, but no.)

One of the things I have learned from this year’s tomato growing experiences is that, in the future, if I have sufficient space, I really could grow enough romas to put up to get through the rest of the year.  The bad news is, doubting whether my romas would ever turn red, I put up 30 lbs of tomatoes from the farmer’s market.  I don’t want to put up any more!  So, I have to find things to do with them.

I pulled out nearly 3 1/2 lbs of romas today, and I haven’t even dared think about the dozens upon dozens of cherry tomatoes waiting impatiently for me.  I eat as many as I can while standing in my garden plot, but there’s only so many of these things you can eat at a time!

I am trying out a new recipe for a fresh tomato soup.  It’s from the newly-published Cooks’ Country cookbook.  That said, I’m adapting both the proportions and some of the instructions.  This may be problematic for reasons mentioned below.  If it’s a success, I give total credit to the Cooks’ Country folk.  If it’s a failure, it’s really not their fault; I’m ignoring one rather crucial instruction.  It’s a little different than my other tomato soup recipes I’ve made, but I was pretty much able to make it with stuff straight out of the garden.

I cored and quartered the tomatoes and chopped up the three remaining small onions.  I threw in a few peeled cloves of garlic, and drizzled the entire thing with three tablespoons of olive oil, a pinch of salt, and a pinch of sugar.

Now, the recipe both called for more tomatoes and instructed the cook to spread them on a large roasting pan.  I don’t have a large roasting pan at the moment, so I’m using my buffet casserole.  The mixture is supposed to be roasted at 450 degree for 1 1/2 hours.  The potential problem is that, with the veggies so close together, they seem to simmer and steam rather than roast, per se.  BUT, this is supposed to end up as soup, so I’m hoping that I’ll hit close enough to the mark for it to still taste good.  We’re about 45 minutes into it, and it smells pretty amazing.

The roasted tomatoes and onions are incredible.  The problem is that when I pureed them, per the recipe, they make a VERY thick puree.  This is supposed to be the basis for the rest of the soup.   The recipe called for either slicing OR plum tomatoes, and I had plum tomatoes.   Well, plum tomatoes have much less liquid to spare than slicing tomatoes, so while I was worried about there being too much liquid, the opposite has happened.

Then, realizing that I needed another pound of fresh tomatoes to mix with the basil that goes into the soup, I went down and picked a bunch of cherry tomatoes.  Now, whether it is the cherry tomatoes or the puree, the soup is too sweet.  I added very little sugar, so it’s not that; it is the tomatoes.  Too thick. Too sweet.  What to do.

(—– Half Hour Time out—–)

OK, despite everything I said above, I think there was an error in the recipe, which is so uncharacteristic of those folks, but this was so far from the mark for them, I think they forgot to write something down.  The recipe didn’t call for ANY additional water or broth.  This might have been OK with slicing tomatoes, but definitely not with my tomatoes.  Considering I had downsized the proportions pretty evenly, I don’t think that was the problem either.

I tried adding water at first.  That thinned it out, but the soup was still thick and sweet.  I went out and grabbed a goodish sprig of oregano, chopped it up, and threw it in.  That rounded out the flavors somewhat, but we still couldn’t imagine sitting down to a bowl of this.   I threw in quite a bit of chicken broth and some more salt, and A LOT of freshly ground pepper.  That did the trick.   It was no longer too sweet or too thick and actually tasted like a pretty great tomato soup.   We mopped it up with grilled cheese sandwiches made with homemade bread and handmade Beecher’s Flagship cheese.


Chard Ravioli

19 09 2008

This is my fall back recipe for using up extra spinach or chard.  It is a combination of recipes from Cook’s Illustrated, The Herbfarm Cookbook, and my own experiences.

Chard filling: (Thanks to having 2 1/2 lbs of chard, I basically tripled this)

  • 3/4 lbs chard (or spinach)
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1 cup ricotta
  • 3/4 c. grated parmesan
  • 1/4 cup chopped onion
  • 1 egg yolk
  • salt

Wash and stem the chard.  Leaving water on leaves, put in a pot over medium heat.  Heat, stirring occasionally, until leaves are just wilted.  For best flavor, the chard should stay a nice bright green.  Remove from heat.  Run leaves under cold water to stop the cooking process.  Squeeze all water of leaves.  Chop fairly finely.

Heat butter in large skillet.  Add onion and saute for 2-3 minutes.  Add chard and stir until evenly mixed.  Remove from heat.  Salt to taste.  I add a bit more salt to chard than I do to spinach in order to bring out the best flavor of the chard.  Sometimes chard can taste too much like “greens” without enough salt.  Let cool.

Mix ricotta, parmesan, and egg yolk.  Add cooled chard / onion mixture.  Stir until cheese and greens are evenly mixed.   Store in refrigerator until pasta is made.

Handmade pasta can be a real pain in the arse, but I’ve found that it is really worth taking the time to figure it out.  The hard part is getting a sense of how much flour the dough needs on that particular day.   Believe it or not, weather conditions really do seem to make a difference.

Basic pasta recipe:

  • 2 cups bread flour  (I’ve made pasta with both all purpose and bread flour, and I’ve found that the bread flour results in a softer dough, which I like)
  • 2 eggs
  • pinch salt
  • 2 tsps olive oil
  • water (2-4+ tbsp)

Through everything but the water in a standing mixer and mix with a dough hook or a paddle.  Add a little water until the dough comes together enough that when you grab a handful, it sticks together when you release it.  It is ok if it is somewhat of a shaggy mess.  If the dough is a little dry now, it’ll save you work later.  Put it in a ziplock bag or wrap it in plastic and let it sit for 30 minutes to 2 hours.  I find the longer it sits, the easier it is to roll.

Then, roll it out using whatever pasta machine you have.  I have an attachment for my KitchenAid mixer.  It’s noisy, but it gets the job done.  I roll it until is at the 5th setting on mine.  If it’s thinner, I find the pasta tears too easily.

Here’s what I’ve taken to lately.  Many cookbooks talk about dusting your cooking area with flour.  Some recommend dusting with rice flour.  I have invariably torn the ravioli at some point using these methods.  I’ve taken to putting the pasta directly on parchment paper.  It is very easy to drag the parchment paper onto a baking sheet to slip it into the freezer.  Once frozen, the ravioli slide right off the parchment paper and into a ziplock bag.

And thus, endless leaves of chard are turned into ravioli for fall dinners.  These twelve, of course, are just the beginning of a long but rewarding process.

Really ridiculously easy pasta.

3 09 2008

This is my new favorite easy-as-pie pasta recipe…at least as long as the cherry tomatoes keep coming.  When the cherry tomatoes started turning red, I turned to The Herbfarm Cookbook for ideas.  This recipe is so simple, it’s hardly a recipe.  This is cooking at its easiest.

This feeds two:

Heat oven to 450.  Start a large pot of water to boil.  Add salt to the water when boils.

Halve about a cup of cherry tomatoes.  Toss with a little olive oil, a pinch of salt, and about a tablespoon of fresh thyme.  Spread evenly on a rimmed baking sheet or enameled cast iron skillet.

Add 8 oz of dried spaghetti to the water.  While spaghetti cooks, place tomatoes in oven and cook for 6-8 minutes, depending on the size of the cherry tomatoes.  The tomatoes will shrivel up a bit.  Remove from oven.

When spaghetti is cooked, drain and toss with tomatoes.  Divide onto two warmed bowls.  Sprinkle with parmesan cheese and a bit of parsley, if available.

It doesn’t get any easier.

On herblings.

27 07 2008

If you already love to cook, I’m sure preaching to the choir when I say that herbs area great starting place for any mini-garden. If you’re a fledging cook wanting to improve, let me reiterate. Herbs are the starting place.

For starters, while you can do a whole heck of a lot with salt, pepper, butter, and olive oil, eventually it’s time for some more flavor. Herbs from your yard give your food a sense of place; your food is flavored by what is thrives around you. Around here, I am growing sage, thyme, chives, garlic chives, basil, marjoram, oregano, parsley, cilantro, , and spearmint. I snip rosemary from plants in the park. There’s nothing like being able to snip whatever you need for dinner.

Not to mention, growing them in your yard or in pots saves you $2 a pop every time you want to cook with herbs. Dry them during the summer and you don’t have to buy dried herbs to flavor meaty fall and winter dishes.

If you already have an herb garden or are looking for inspiration, I highly recommend The HerbFarm Cookbook. This has become my go-to source for ideas how to use herbs in cooking. It’s a little on the pricey side, but every recipe I have tried has been stellar, which is rare for a lot of cookbooks.

Updated to add a picture of this tasty loaf of foccacia from dinner tonight.