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!