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.

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