July 27, 2009

Roasted tomato and garlic soup

I had a dinner party this weekend and I wanted to keep things simple. I also wanted to feature some of the beautiful vegetables I have right now-- from my own garden, from our farmer's CSA and to round things out, from our local farmer's market. My farm share comes on Monday and I hit the market on Saturday. These tomatoes were from my garden, left on the counter to ripen in this cool bamboo screened basket a friend gave me...

This year I have Brandywines, Cherokee Purples and an heirloom called Mortgage Lifter in my garden, all shown here in their various shades of purple, red and green.

I wasn't sure if I should cook these, they were so beautiful, so I bought a few more local tomatoes at the farmer's market in case I decided to keep my heirlooms for eating raw. It's hard to beat the taste of a homegrown tomato sprinkled with salt and a drizzle of olive oil. In addition to the soup, I also served little cheese puffs (gougéres), Sicilian zucchini "alla povera"- with chili pepper and mint- and a light summer pasta with cherry tomatoes, yellow squash, hot peppers, celery and tomato purée.

zucchini 'alla povera'

In thinking about tomatoes and how to best feature them, I thought about ways to cook them that would enhance their raw flavor, and what better way to do that than to roast them, which makes them intensely sweet and tangy. This soup had a depth of flavor like no other tomato soup I've ever tasted. It didn't taste acidic at all, like the kind I think of in winter accompanied by grilled cheese sandwiches. I have never made my own tomato soup, but sometimes buy a can of Annie's all natural soups when I want a quick weeknight winter meal.

But this is a tomato soup for summer using the juiciest tomatoes when they're in their prime. It has a delicately nuanced flavor that makes it work in hot weather. And, even though it has a bit of heavy cream swirled in at the end, it's actually quite light. I took my inspiration from the August Gourmet recipe for "Roasted tomato soup with parmesan wafers" and even though I have no evidence of the wafers in the photo, I did make them and they were unbelievably good--and easy!

Roasted garlic and tomato soup

4 lb tomatoes, halved
6 garlic cloves, left unpeeled
3 T olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1/2 t dried oregano
2 t sugar
2 T unsalted butter
3 cups chicken stock
1/2 cup heavy cream

Arrange tomatoes on baking sheet cut side up, then drizzle with some olive oil, salt and pepper them, and place the garlic cloves on the sheet around them. Roast in 350 degree oven for one hour. Let cool.

In a pot on stove, cook onion, oregano and sugar in butter over med heat until softened, about 5 min. Peel garlic and add along with tomatoes, stock and simmer, covered, 20 min. Puree soup with immersion blender or in batches in blender, stir in cream and salt and pepper to taste, heating for 2 min. Can be made ahead and reaheated before serving. Serve with parmesan wafers* floating in each bowl.

Parmesan wafers

1.5 cups parmesan or pecorino cheese, roughly grated
1 T flour

Mix cheese and flour in bowl, then scoop by spoonfuls onto baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Spread each round into a flat circle, trying not to leave any holes. Bake in 350 degree oven for about 10 min. Let cool completely before delicately scraping off with spatula.

July 19, 2009

farmer's salad

This is a salad I will crave forever and ever. It was so delicious and fresh and very aptly named because every ingredient (almost) came from our farmer's basket.

I cannot begin to explain the crunch and the freshness in every bite or the clean taste of each part which made up the delectable whole. Thankfully, I just upgraded my camera so that at least the photo is helpful in getting it across. While I didn't get a fancy new expensive 'profesh' kind of new camera (not the time for that kind of spending), it was a major upgrade, having gone from 4 megapixels to 10! And I think it shows.

I got the inspiration for this salad from something I saw in August issue of bon appétit. It was a chicken, green bean, corn and farro salad with goat cheese. I didn't have any goat cheese or farro (unfortunately, my supply from Italy had run out) so I substituted pearl barley and left out the cheese completely. It was not necessary at all and kept the salad crisp and healthy.

I had beautiful green onions and dark green celery from the farmers as well as gorgeous romano beans. The corn is not being harvested just yet at Long Hungry Creek Farm, so I found some local corn at the market from Delvin Farms. It was super sweet and creamy, the perfect accompaniment to all the greens. The barley added that extra depth of nutty flavor to the veggies and the chicken lifted it from a side to a main dish. It's important to only make this salad if you can use fresh, organic produce. It's summer, after all!

Farmer's salad

1/2 cup pearl barley, spelt berries or farro
8 oz. skinless, boneless chicken breast
12 oz. green beans, cut into small pieces
2 cups fresh yellow corn
3/4 cup green onions
1/2 cup chopped celery
fresh herbs: marjoram, thyme, basil

for dressing:
2 T red wine vinegar
2 T minced shallots (or red onion)
1 T Dijon mustard
1/2 t coarse salt
fresh ground pepper

All of the elements are cooked separately - Sautée the chicken in some olive oil in a skillet while boiling the corn, then blanche the green beans to al dente and cook the barley or farro in a pot of boiling, salted water. Drain and let everything cool to room temperature before mixing with the green onion, celery, fresh herbs and the dressing. Toss to coat evenly and serve with a crisp white wine like Viognier or Grüner Veltliner.

This will definitely be a my new farmer-fresh summer salad for parties, potlucks or just a weeknight dinner in one dish. Enjoy! And, remember to thank your farmers!

July 14, 2009

Slow Bake Sale

Our "Great American Bake Sale" sponsored by Slow Food Nashville and held last Saturday at the Nashville Farmer's Market was a sweet success! We raised almost $900 for Share Our Strength's campaign to fight childhood hunger.

Thanks to all of our local bakers and pastry chefs for contributing their delicious baked treats to our sale. So many beautiful items graced our checkered tablecloth, arriving throughout the day at the market for folks to drool over. And drool they did. But they also threw down and spent money, some even donating money on top of their purchase, giving me hope that people do care. And they also love sweets.

Who wouldn't love baked goods made by professionals using mostly local ingredients? Who wouldn't love these...

peach-almond tarts made by Tom Huber for Marmellata

fresh fruit tarts made by Bacon and Caviar Catering

peach danishes made by Provence

peach cupcakes with blackberries made by Martha Stamps

'chocolate sin cake' made by Zola, pecan tarts by Bacon and Caviar and buttercream cupcake by Sweet Honey

And so much more... coffee cake from F. Scott's, a local harvest cake and vegan beet muffins from Fido, beautiful little linzer cookies and chocolate-ginger cookies by Rebekah Turshen of the Union Station Hotel, cheesecakes by Nashville Cheescake, brioche from Patterson House, and 'crostata di marmellata' and peach-blackberry cobbler made by yours truly.

Thanks again to all who baked, helped and ate. I'm proud of our Slow Food Chapter, our local chefs and our community.

July 8, 2009

easy summer cooking

It's July and around here that means the summer produce is just starting to kick into high gear. This year, in addition to our weekly farm share with The Barefoot Farmer, we also have our own little veggie garden that is starting to show lots of promise. We've picked our first cucumbers-- all 3 of them over 16 inches long!

...and a beautiful green bell pepper, and the tomatoes that I've been able to save from the birds are just starting to ripen in all of their pink, luscious glory. We've eaten one so far and while my organic heirloom tomato plants bought from Eaton's Creek are producing fewer tomatoes than probably most conventional plants you can buy at Home Depot, each one is worth its weight in gold.

So fixing something for dinner in the summer months becomes a sort of game that most days I enjoy playing. What can I do with all of this produce so fresh it needs to be enjoyed NOW, like the lettuce we get from the farmer, or the gigantic basil leaves that are taking over the garden.

The cucumbers got eaten sliced thinly and sprinkled with salt on a piece of toast spread with goat cheese. I could think of no better way to enjoy the freshly picked monster cukes. I shared some with neighbors to show off my gardening skills. But for the most part, my garden is not about huge quantities, but the quality is outstanding. And my herbs are doing amazingly well. The one thing I always include in every meal in the summer are fresh herbs from the garden: rosemary, thyme, basil, oregano, chives and Italian parsley.

I made pizza dough one night and we ate margherita pizzas hot out of the oven with fresh mozzarella, my quick tomato sauce and basil from the garden.

And one night I made a lasagne with what I had on hand: local shitake mushrooms from Delvin Farms, my basil again, and summer squash and leeks from the farmers. It was a light summer version of my usual lasagne bolognese. It also made a great lunch cold the next day.

And, then there was this version of a ratatouille--100% local, even the garlic--with everything I had gotten from the farm share that week thrown in: onions, garlic, baby carrots, dark green celery, summer squash, fresh thyme, basil and a couple of tomatoes thrown in at the end. Eaten as is, or scooped onto a piece of crusty Tuscan bread and drizzled with olive oil, it was like summer in one pot.

And it's so simple. Just coarsely chop everything and lightly sautée each veggie on its own, aromatics first, then the squash or zucchini, cook with the lid on for only about 15 min. as veggies this fresh don't need much cooking time, then throw in the chopped tomatoes, cook 5 min. more, and finally, the herbs and give it one stir. It's one of the best ways I know to enjoy the bounty of summer in the simplest preparation possible. Easy summer cooking doesn't get any better than this!