Sunday, July 28, 2013

Busy, Busy, Busy - and Worth Every Minute!

If you are a gardener, foodie, urban farmer, cook - whatever - this time of year is an orgy. Everything is growing like crazy in your garden, the tables and bins at the Farmers Markets are overflowing with gorgeous fresh produce, meats, breads and handcrafted small batch jars of nut butters, pickles - there is just so much, in so many places! Where to begin?

It is that time of year when cooking, baking, freezing, drying, and canning become obsessive activities for many of us.  We dream of a larder and a freezer chock full of delicious treats and provisions to see us happily through the long, cold winter.

Here at our little urban homestead, we're happily stocked with bags and bags of local strawberries, blueberries, blackberries and cherries. They are labeled and stacked in our "fruit bin" in the big freezer. We've also tucked in some bags of chopped rhubarb after discovering that the "jam" and syrup (great for martinis, pancakes) we made worked just as well with frozen rhubarb. We have many bags of local green beans and corn (off the cob) in the freezer as well. 

Now we're getting ready to start pickling - our Cucumbers are coming in really well, as is our Okra. Okra can also be slightly blanched and frozen.  Soon the grapes will be in and it will be time for jam and grape juice production. 

Our successful crops of eggplants, peppers and zucchini guarantee we'll be feasting on ratatouille, eggplant Parmesan, stuffed zucchini and the like.  We have long strings (ristra) already of cayenne peppers hanging in the kitchen, and of course the kales and the mustard greens just keep going. We've already made a few batches of pesto and there are herbs hanging and drying all over the place.  

Yes. It's a busy time - but oh, so worth it! All Fall and Winter long we will have the basis for great meals, snacks and desserts - all from our own or others locally grown products. Our larder and freezer will go a long way to feeding friends and family for months. I just love knowing that. I must have been a Depression baby in a past life! Below are shots of some of our crops. What's more beautiful? Not much, I think.  Here's a couple of recipe/techniques that are great for the summer. 

Recipe:  Cucumber Salad

Take a couple of medium cucumbers, if you like, you can remove some of the skin - give the cukes a "striped" look. On a good fresh medium sized cucumber - ones that aren't "waxed" by giant producers you don't need to remove the skin. There's good stuff in that skin!!!

Thinly slice red onion (at least 1/2 for two cukes) and place the slices in a bowl
Sprinkle the onion slices with good red wine vinegar & sea salt.

Let the onions marinate in the vinegar for about 10 mins.

Cut your cucumbers into slices or chunks - whichever you prefer.

Add the cucumber to the red onion, add extra virgin olive oil - about three times as much oil as vinegar, but really tasting the salad works best. Some like it tangy.

Toss everything gently. Add more salt if needed. Add some freshly ground black pepper. Toss again.

Let the salad sit at room temperature for about 15 minutes before serving.

This makes a great side dish but it's also great over broiled fish and don't get me started on how good a pile of this is on a warm, buttered roll or piece of toast. Really. Trust me.

Recipe/Technique:  Pasta Frittata

At this time of year, we find ourselves making pasta with fresh veggies and fresh tomatoes. The leftovers from these dishes are perfect for pasta frittata.

All you have to do is add some beaten eggs, milk or cream, a bit of regular flour, and a pinch of baking powder to your leftover pasta and vegetables. Mix it all up really, really well.  Add some chunks of cheese and anything else you have that you want to use - sliced mushrooms, peppers, whatever. It really depends on what was in your original pasta dish and what's hanging out in your 'fridge.

Pour the whole mixture into a lightly buttered pan - or a non-stick pan (I use one of my cast iron pans because I love the finish).

Cook the frittata over medium heat until the egg mixture is set up. Run a knife around the pan to see if it's close to done. Slide your spatula under the frittata to test for doneness as well. 

You can either finish the top by putting a lid on the pan for a few minutes, flashing the pan under your broiler, or flipping the frittata out onto a plate and sliding it back into your pan so that the top is now the bottom. 

Frankly, I'm all about the broiler flash - always works,  no extra dish, etc. 

I slide the frittata right out onto a cutting board and let it sit for at least 10 minutes and up to 30 minutes for room temperature. It delicious at any temperature. See the last picture.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Heirloom Tomato, Onion, and Cheese Pie

Now is the season of the Heirloom Tomato.  Here is a wonderful way to make use of some of this short term bounty. This pie is Summer Comfort Food at its finest!

Tomato, Onion, and Cheese Pie


One pastry shell - you can make your favorite recipe or you can buy pie pastry.  Don't buy the shells in the aluminum pans; upgrade to the rolled dough in the red box made by Pillsbury.  These are what I use for this sort of recipe. There are two to a box and they keep really well in your refrigerator or freezer. 

2 1/4 lbs of assorted heirloom tomatoes, thinly sliced
1 medium sweet onion chopped
1 tablespoon canola oil
1/4 cup fresh basil
1/4 cup fresh flat leaf basil
1/2 cup freshly grated Gruyere (or more if you want it really cheesy)
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano
 1/4 cup of mayonnaise (homemade really makes it delicious, if you can do it)


Preheat the oven to 425 degrees and "blind bake" the pie crust (line the crust with foil and pour in pie weights or dry beans and spread them around).  You don't want the crust to rise, you do want it cooked quite a bit so that it doesn't get soggy when the ingredients are added.  Blind bake the pie crust for 15 - 20 minutes.

Remove the cooked crust from the oven, remove the pie weights and foil and lower the oven to 350 degrees. 

Place the sliced tomatoes on paper towels and sprinkle with salt and let stand for at least ten minutes (you are drawing out excess liquid).

Chop the basil & parsley and blend - this needn't be a fine chop.

Sauté the chopped onions in the canola oil with salt and pepper to taste. Sauté for about 3 minutes to soften.

Pat the tomato slices dry
Pat the chopped onions dry
Stir together the cheeses and the mayonnaise 

Layer the sliced tomatoes and onions with the chopped herbs in the pie crust (see the pictures)
You are layering:  tomatoes, then onions, then herbs, a little salt & pepper and then, repeat.

After you have used all of the ingredients, spread the mayonnaise and cheese mixture over the top of the pie. (See picture)

Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.  Let the top get bubbly and slightly brown.  

Serve hot.

This recipe was adapted from Southern Living Cookbook 2012 by Virginia Willis

Monday, July 15, 2013

Pisciotta - Olive Oil Cake

This a delicious, versatile cake.  I use a Limoncello based glaze very often, but it is also wonderful topped with fresh berries and marscapone or ice cream. It is wonderful just plain with coffee.  People never believe how much olive oil is in the cake - the taste is barely, but deliciously present - but it's the extra virgin olive oil that gives this cake its incredible moisture, as well as it's long shelf life. 

Once you make it, you'll crave it. I promise.


2 eggs
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
The zest of one lemon
Salt - a pinch
1/3 cup of dry Marsala wine (I have substituted with a dry tawny port)
1/3 cup of whole milk
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil - for the batter
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil - for the cake pan
1 tablespoon Baking Powder
11/2 cups all purpose flour

A tube baking pan.  I am posting this particular picture because I have no idea where my tube pan is (in a box somewhere) so I made one.  This is a round baking pan with a biscuit cutter.  When I poured the batter into the pan I put a glass canister full of sugar on top on top of the tube to hold it in place and tight to the surface of the cake pan.  As you can see, no batter seeped through in baking and the cutter slipped out easily. Remember to oil the biscuit cutter too!


Preheat the oven to 400 degrees
Beat the eggs with all of the sugar - you want it foamy and pale
To the eggs and sugar add the lemon zest, salt, wine, and the 3/4 cup of EVOO
Mix thoroughly

Mix the baking powder with the flour 
Add the flour mixture to the wet mixture and mix thoroughly - you really don't want lumps so it needs a good mix

Smear the pan with the tablespoon of olive oil
Pour the batter into the pan 

Bake for 30 - 40 minutes.  You are looking for nicely browned and a clean toothpick when testing the middle.

Let it come to room temperature, then remove it from the pan.

My Limoncello Glaze

Pour1/4 cup fresh lemon juice ( no bottle, don't bother) and 1/4 cup of Limoncello into a small saucepan

Add a teaspoon of sugar and one pat of butter

Whisk over medium heat until well blended

Brush all over the cake and let it sit for a few minutes

Serve and enjoy