Hanging on to Summer Veggies

The farmers markets here in the Portland area are probably at their most abundant right now. Tomatoes, peppers, corn, and eggplants are still bountiful and colorful. But trying to crowd them out are the piles of winter squash, apples, pears, brussels sprouts and the rest of the fall contingent. The weather is leaning towards fall but I’m a die-hard summer veggie eater as long as I possibly can be. I know those hefty squash that have absorbed a season’s worth of warmth and turned it into an edible hunk of sunshine will be there for me in a few weeks and will stick around until early spring, not much worse for wear.

Eggplants and a sweet, red pepper needed for the Hot, Sweet, Sour Eggplant dish below.

But the summer veggies are more fleeting so I’m cooking with eggplant and peppers almost every day and madly preserving tomatoes along the way.  I tend to make Italian dishes with these but lately I’ve been having fun with a Chinese-inspired dish–Sweet, Hot, Sour Eggplant–named so by me and undoubtedly inauthentic. It’s quick, full flavored and richer tasting than it is. The Thai basil that’s still thriving in a pot in my backyard makes it extra good but more common Genovese basil, cilantro or even parsley would all be good.

I neglected to take a picture on the evening I made this so this photo is of the leftovers I heated up together with the rice for lunch the next day.

Sweet, Sour and Hot Eggplant

My favorite way to serve this quick Chinese-inspired dish is over short grain brown rice but any rice is excellent. It’s a rich-tasting dish though actually fairly light in preparation.

2 medium eggplant (or several smaller ones—any kind of eggplant will work in this dish—the long slender Japanese ones, more common Italian, globe ones, . . .), skin on, cubed

1 medium onion, diced

1 sweet red pepper, thinly sliced

2 cloves garlic, minced

3 tablespoons soy sauce

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

1 tablespoon sugar

1 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, or fresh, minced Serrano, jalapeno or other hot pepper

2 teaspoons cornstarch

1 teaspoons salt (or to taste)

2-3 tablespoons olive or sunflower or other oil

3-4 tablespoons Thai basil, basil, cilantro or parsley, roughly chopped

Stir together soy sauce, vinegar, sugar and cornstarch in a small bowel.

In a large skillet or wok heat the oil and sauté onions and pepper (if using) over medium-high heat for about 5-7 minutes until they soften. Add red pepper flakes (or minced hot pepper) and eggplant and cook until it softens and browns a bit, about 15 minutes, stirring frequently. A few minutes before the eggplant is done add the minced garlic and stir well. Then add the sauce and stir well to mix and coat veggies. Cook over medium heat for a few minutes until sauce thickens and veggies are tender. Stir in the herbs, saving out a few for garnish if you’d like. Serve hot over rice with reserved herbs.

Happy Cooking and Eating!

Tasting (Spoons)

The centerpiece of all my cooking classes

If you’ve ever taken a class with me this image will be very familiar. I was lucky to inherit a good number of spoons (beautiful ones to boot) and we use them many times over, all of them, in each class. Tasting as you go is one of the joys and necessities (I believe) of cooking, especially if you’re not exactly following a recipe and working with what you have. Frankly, it’s the simple spoon that probably is the vehicle for more aha! moments in class than anything else.

I’ve been both cooking on the fly with just an idea and a few ingredients for inspiration and have been following recipes (closely even) as I gear up for the beginning of my fall classes. Some dishes certainly benefit from more attention to detail, ratios, and exact ingredients, like this salad which is perfection on a plate and you should make while the cucumbers last.

And I’ve been doing exactly the opposite, like with this salad that I made last week in my typical, bean-loving cook-with-what-you-have approach.

Chickpea salad with tomatoes, basil, sweet onion, hard-cooked egg and a vinaigrette

So I keep pondering the tools and tricks of cooking (at home) and teaching those things. Tasting is key as is having good, fresh produce. . . beyond that, salt generously, try to enjoy the process and the result and keep doing it. And if you want to do all of that with good company and no dishes to wash, come take a class this fall.

Happy Cooking and Eating!



Tomato Paella

Tomato Paella–a quick, inexpensive, vegetarian version of the classic rice and seafood dish.

Mark Bittman published this recipe in the New York Times many years ago and I’ve been adapting it ever since. It’s best with really flavorful, ripe tomatoes–and not sauce tomatoes like Romas or San Marzanos but heirloom, slicing tomatoes. Unlike Bittman I cook the whole thing on the stove top instead of finishing it in the oven but with either method it’s a quick one-dish meal with a simple green salad on the side.

You arrange the tomato wedges on the rice once you’ve added the stock.

Tomato Paella

–Adapted from Mark Bittman

This is a delicious, quick, and inexpensive (and vegetarian) twist on a classic paella. It’s perfect this time of year with beautiful, juicy tomatoes. It’s very important to season the ingredients properly as you go. It’s really a shame to under salt this dish. Taste your stock or bouillon to make sure it’s well seasoned.

Serves 4-6

3 1/2 cups stock, water or veggie bouillon (made with 4 1/2 teaspoons bouillon paste and 3 1/2 cups water)
1 1/2 pounds ripe, slicer/heirloom tomatoes (not sauce tomatoes), cored and cut into thick wedges (about 4 medium to large tomatoes)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 medium onion, minced
1 tablespoon minced garlic
Large pinch saffron threads
2 teaspoons Spanish pimentón (smoked paprika), or other paprika
2 cups Spanish or Arborio or other short-grain rice (I use Arborio)
1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt (if the stock isn’t very salty or you’re using water)

Warm stock or water in a saucepan. If using water, add a teaspoon of salt to the water. Put tomatoes in a medium bowl, sprinkle with additional salt and pepper, and drizzle them with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Toss to coat. Put remaining oil in a 10- or 12-inch heavy-bottomed skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion and garlic, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables soften, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in saffron if you are using it and pimentón and cook for a minute more. Add rice and cook, stirring occasionally, until it is shiny, another two to three minutes. Add hot stock or water and stir until just combined.

Put tomato wedges on top of rice and drizzle with juices that accumulated in bottom of bowl. Cook covered, over medium heat undisturbed, for 15 -20 minutes. Check to see if rice is dry and just tender. If not, keep cooking for another 5 minutes and remove lid if there is excess liquid.  If rice looks too dry but still is not quite done, add a small amount of stock or water (or wine). When rice is ready, turn off oven and let pan sit for 5 to 15 minutes. If you like, put pan over high heat for a few minutes to develop a bit of a bottom crust before serving. If you have time you should definitely do this last part. The crust is fabulous.


Blackberry Pie for Breakfast and other Summer Treats

Blackberry pie for breakfast is an annual late summer treat.

Cooking in the summer for me is a funny combination of quick, whatever I have on hand because I don’t want to be sweating over a hot stove meals, and on the other hand, making more laborious, involved things that I only get to make once or twice a year because the season is fleeting and precious. And somehow sweating over a hot stove for hours is part of that fleeting pleasure and experience that makes it what it is. And it’s often done in the name of preserving that treasure for the cooler months so it’s time extra well spent.

The past few weeks have seen lots of the former and a few of the latter. Blackberry pie, though not terribly time-consuming is in the latter category. I just don’t make pies that often and blackberry may be my very favorite. It manages to evoke the feeling of hot summer afternoons picking blackberries in the woods–dusty, sticky sweet and all scratched up–in one single bite. I use an all-butter crust (this is a good recipe) and about 6 cups of blackberries, 3 tablespoons cornstarch, juice of one lemon and maybe a little lemon zest, for this summer treat. And if you make a blackberry pie, leave it out over night (covered with a dish towel) and don’t refrigerate it. In the morning you’ll have the best summer breakfast imaginable waiting for you.

In the slow and hot department, I’ve made lots of jam this year: raspberry, strawberry, marionberry peach vanilla, blackberry, peach vanilla, and blackberry fig lemon. I’ve approached jam with a cook-with-what-you-have (and desperately need to use up before it goes bad) attitude. Thus the blackberry fig (Dolores thank you for both!) and marionberry peach. It’s been fun, hot and sticky and I can’t wait to give many of these jars away come the holidays.

In the quick department, it’s been tomatoes and more tomatoes these days. Oh and a beet salad that’s worth briefly noting. I tossed chunks of cold, roasted beets with avocado, green onions, cilantro, feta and a bit of lime juice, olive oil and salt. It was an impromptu lunch but will certainly turn into a planned affair in the future.

Back to tomatoes and quick lunches. This is my idea of  the perfect summer lunch:

Fried egg on a slice of tomato, some basil, a few slivers of sweet onion, butter, a good pice of toast and topped with some basil and salt and pepper! Divine!

And finally, my new favorite tomato dish, that I made for dinner last week and will make again, at least once, this week. It’s a brilliant, quick combination of simple ingredients. I got the idea and only slightly changed the recipe from Deb at smittenkitchen.com who only slighted adapted if from Ina Garten.

Their versions call it Scalloped Tomatoes but because there is no milk or cream in it, which I think of when I think of scalloped anything, I’ve started calling it a Tomato Bread Gratin. But no matter, it’s really good.

Tomato Bread Gratin–a quick, hearty but light summer dish that is much lovelier than this lackluster photo conveys.

Tomato Bread Gratin

–adapted from smittenkitchen who adapted it from Ina Garten.

You can vary the quantities and ratios here with no problem. More tomatoes will make it a little moister and might take a little longer to cook and more bread will make it denser and more crisp. I used less cheese than the original(s) listed and loved it. You can vary the herbs and increase the quantity if you’d like.

3 cups cubed, stale bread (not sandwich bread–something with a bit more texture and heft), crusts included

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 1/2 – 3 lbs tomatoes, diced

2 -3 garlic cloves, minced

1 tablespoon sugar

2 teaspoons kosher salt (yes, use all of this)

1/3 cups of basil, sliced into thin strips (or combination of basil and oregano)

1/2 cup (or more) grated Parmesan or other hard cheese.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Butter a 9 x 13 baking dish or other shallow dish.

Toast bread cubes in a large skillet with the olive oil over medium-high heat, stirring regularly, until the bread is toasty.

Add the diced tomatoes, sugar, salt and garlic  to the skillet with the bread and stir really well to incorporate evenly. Cook for about five minutes, stirring often. Take off the heat, stir in the basil and pour contents into baking dish. Top evenly with parmesan and bake until bubbly and crisp on top, about 35 minutes.

Serve with a big green salad or other summer salads. This is, as Deb at smittenkitchen suggests, fantastic with a fried or poached egg on top.

Happy Cooking!

P.S. Now that school has started I’m gearing up for fall classes. Lots to choose from here at Cook With What You Have including the next two classes that take advantage of all this fabulous, late summer/early fall produce. So come take a class and enjoy these fleeting treats with some new ideas.