I know it’s fall–it looks, smells and feels that way here in the Pacific Northwest–but the giant tomatoes I’m still hauling in from the garden and that keep showing up in my CSA share are ever so welcome. It is that time of year for me though where there is so much produce, both summer and fall crops, that it’s hard to focus. This salad is a good way to work through a lot of tomatoes and cherish their sweet juicy-ness before they disappear for many months.
This quick salad today is not a panzanella, at least not in the typical Tuscan sense, though it may look like it to many. This is panzanella! Thank goodness for a better writer than me and one with more authority on Italian food than me to write a proper post about this wonderful, soggy, yes soggy, Tuscan dish that I ate day after day in Italy and have recreated for students and friends alike, almost always to raised eyebrows of skepticism before and appreciation and wonder after ingestion! I like many of the more modern, American adaptations with toasted bread, I just resist calling them panzanella for some stubborn nod to tradition that occasionally comes over me.
In this salad, a thick slice or two of toasted bread is cut into cubes and tossed with big chunks of tomato, feta, a bit of arugula and lots of basil and some diced red onion. Red wine vinegar and good olive oil and salt and pepper is all the dressing it needs. Buon Appetito!
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.
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.
My four-year-old son Ellis and I spent a night at my mother’s place last week. She lives in the middle of nowhere and has neighbors with cherry trees and fruit picking ladders. Ellis climbed right to the top of this rather tall ladder and ate his fill of Royal Ann cherries, gleefully spitting the pits down onto our heads. Actually he mostly missed our heads but cackled with each dropping pit. The setting sun and a sticky, happy kid . . .. Summer, finally here (though absent again today) is so wonderful. And if you have lots of cherries and need a new idea for them, try this wonderful recipe by David Lebovitz for Cherries in Red Wine Syrup.
My cooking has been somewhat sporadic and a bit frenetic of late. We’ve been out-of-town, had visitors, had lots of picnics and barbeques, even a meal or two out. I want to be outside all the time and am spending more time processing berries than making dinner. This means we’ve had a lot of frittatas, salads and artichokes for dinner lately or anything else I can throw together in minutes so I can get back outside.
Green Couscous from Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi
I have made two dishes worth noting in the last few days. The first comes from one of my favorite cookbooks Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi that you’ve heard me rave about here before. It’s called Green Couscous and is a herb-heavy, full flavored dish. If you, or you in combination with your neighbors grow mint, cilantro, tarragon, dill, parsley, and arugula, you might be able to make this salad on a moments notice. The recipe calls for toasted pistachios but I didn’t have any and substituted toasted almonds which worked beautifully. This recipe is not super quick. It has a few more steps than most of my dishes but it’s well worth it.
I know our spring here in the Pacific Northwest was cooler and wetter than others so if you no longer have garlic scapes (tops, whistles) in your neck of the woods just file this away for next year. Garlic scapes are the long, elegant stalks that grow up out of a garlic plant. So while the head of garlic is finishing up its growth underground the plant gives us a fragrant, sweet, tender shoot to work with as well. These scapes make a wonderful pesto so if you have some in your garden or see a bunch at the farmers market or in your CSA box, this is one thing to do with it.
Garlic Scape Pesto. Next to the bowl of pesto you see the very tops of the garlic scapes which hold the flower of the plant. You want to use the scape right up to this part but I typically don't include the immature flower in the pesto but come to think of it I'm not sure why. . . .
Garlic Scape Pesto
1 bunch (about 7-8) garlic scapes
generous handful of toasted (or raw) walnuts
1-2 ounces parmesan or Asiago stella
3/4 cup (or more) basil leaves
1/3 cups of good-tasting extra virgin olive oil
Roughly chop the garlic scapes, with our without the very top, flower part (See note in caption above). Process the nuts and cheese in a food processor. Add the remaining ingredients and process until smooth. Adjust seasoning to taste. Serve on toasted bread, with pasta, potatoes, eggs dishes other grains. . . .
Happy Cooking and Eating!
P.S. Two spots left in my August Eat Better Series. Save money, eat well, fewer trips to the store and more fun in the kitchen . . .
250 corn cakes, 150 “caprese” toasts, and 160 deviled eggs! Done, consumed, enjoyed and almost forgotten. I have not, however, and never will forget the spirit and beauty of the day. You can get a sense of it here and I’ll post more photos as I get them. My brother has always been good at throwing parties and he (and Emily!) outdid themselves this time. They managed to organize four days of celebration beginning with cider pressing on Thursday followed by a totally impromptu “cook with what you have dinner” for 20 by yours truly and my mother. Then we had a day of set up, rehearsal and rehearsal dinner on a beautiful evening. The only hitch was that the lasagnas were still solidly frozen 4 hours before dinner and I was afraid they were going to turn from block of ice to mush in those four hours they spent in the oven. Somehow they managed to survive.
Ben (the groom), uncle Hans (from Germany), brother Reuben
The wedding day dawned foggy with a pink sunrise that just barely permeated the fog to lend a warm glow to the quiet morning. We all scurried about hauling straw bails (supports for the last couple of benches for the ceremony site), setting tables, arranging flowers, and in my case frying corn cakes. That was the longest slog on the food prep front–frying 250 of those little buggers in two 9-inch cast iron pans for 90 minutes straight. I had had lots of help with the deviled eggs the day before and new helpers arrived Saturday morning to assemble the appetizers. Thank you Susan, Bridget and Vita!
Corncakes with cumin lime Greek yogurt and parsley
Deviled eggs with homemade mayonnaise and lots of herbs
In the middle of the appetizer prep and the bride getting ready with her bridesmaids and about an hour before picture time, the power inexplicably went off. I panicked, just a bit. No power means no water at my mom’s place (where all this was happening) since water arrives in the faucets via a pump that is powered by electricity. My brother Ben calmly looked at me and assured me all would be fine. My other brother Reuben started calling neighbors to see if this was an isolated problem or general problem (turned out to be a general problem). Some groomsmen and Reuben retrieved the generator from the barn and hauled it down to the wedding site to ensure proper amplification during the ceremony. My mother hastily taped notes with “do not run water” on all the faucets and toilets and my helpers and I continued toasting our hundreds of slices of baguette in the old propane oven in the kitchen. The lamb and pig were both happily roasting up at the barns without any need for electricity and I realized Ben was right. Everything would be just fine!
Then just as photos were wrapping up and we started to line up for the real deal the power came back on. So no need for that loud generator after all and I could rid my hands of the greasy, bacony corncake smell just in time.
To make what could be a record-breaking long blog post shorter, the ceremony was beautiful, funny, moving and everything it could have been. The highlight of the dinner was the pulled pork that had been roasted overnight in a pit underground resting on the apple trimmings from the previous day’s cider pressing.
Ryan, the expert pig roaster (and wedding officiator) and I preparing to "pull" that juicy amazing meat off the bones
The dinner was followed by 45 minutes of moving and funny toasts and stories about the couple, amazing mini-bundt cakes made by Emily’s sister and then there was dancing, until 2 am!
And now back to those corncakes. They make a wonderful dinner and are a good way to take advantage of some of the last of the season’s corn. And by all means make them regular pancake size, not silver-dollar-sized!
4-5 ears fresh, sweet corn, kernels cut off cob
1 oz bacon, diced
1/2 medium onion, finely diced
1 poblano or anaheim chili, roasted, peeled, seeded and chopped (optional)
1/2- 1 tsp. ground cumin
salt & pepper
1/3 cup flour
1/3 cup cornstarch
1/2 – 3/4 cup water
Saute the bacon and onion in large saute pan for about five minutes until the onion is soft. Add the cumin, salt, pepper, roasted chili if using, and corn kernels. Cook for about five minutes then take off the heat. In a large bowl, beat the eggs, add flour, cornstarch another pinch or two of salt and water and whisk until smooth. Start with 1/2 cup of water. Add the corn mixture and mix well. If the mixture seems too thick and sticky add a few tablespoons of water at a time. Heat another frying pan with a little oil (just to coat the bottom–these are pan-fried not deep-fried) and spoon the batter into the pan. Flatten the cakes a bit and fry until golden brown on both sides. Just a few minutes on each side.
Serve with greek yogurt mixed with more cumin and some lime or lemon juice, to taste.
Finally, three orders of business. First of all, most of the fall classes I’ve posted are almost full or sold out. I do have a few spots in this coming Sunday’s Soup Class #1 (since yesterday’s was overbooked) so let me know right away if you’re interested.
Secondly, I will be doing the chef demo at the Portland Farmers Market this Saturday at 10 am. Come say hello and have a snack and shop the fabulous bounty of the market.
Finally, one of my favorite cookbook authors, Dorie Greenspan, is going to be in town on October 19th and will be speaking at the Heathman about her new book Around my French Table. And there will be free appetizers to boot. 5:30, 10/19 co-hosted by Powells Books and The Heathman.
I work at home which means I eat lunch at home almost every day. I very much like my quiet lunches on the days Ellis is in school. And recently, I’ve been incorporating tomatoes in all of them. This time of year is so wonderful because with a decently stocked pantry you can make so many wonderful things with tomatoes in a matter of minutes. The above lunch was an impromptu fried egg, tomato, basil and soft cheese sandwich. The bread is toasted, the egg warm–which gives the basil even more fragrance–and the whole thing is gooey, messy and so satisfying.
I tend to have frozen chickpeas on hand. I cook them (and black beans, etc.) in big batches and then freeze them in a bit of cooking liquid in quart or pint containers. Every other week or so I put a container in the fridge to use as needed. The other day I mixed said chickpeas with diced tomato, arugula, feta, olive oil, a little red wine vinegar and salt and pepper. And I had myself a delicious and hearty salad.
And finally, I made this tomato and goat cheese tart from David Lebovitz’s wonderful collection of recipes for a recent brunch with friends. It was quick because I had pre-made tart dough in the fridge. The dough itself is quick and easy to make and this recipe doesn’t even mention letting it chill before using so if you’ve got company for lunch or dinner or brunch, it’s a winner and far easier than it looks.
Finally, two photos just for fun. This is my yellow crookneck squash plant on overdrive even as most of its leaves have already succumbed to the powdery mildew of all summer squash plants at this time of year.
And my dear brother Ben who is getting married on Saturday! I can’t wait!
Last but not least, I am having a great time testing soups but a very difficult time narrowing down which ones to choose for the upcoming Soup Class on Sunday, October 3rd. A few spots left in that one and the Savory Condiment one in which we’ll be making tomato and onion jam and preserving sweet red peppers. Let me know if you’re interested.
I had no particular intention of writing about ratatouille but I returned from the farmers market last Saturday around 12:30 (sleepy child on the bike) with a single-minded focus on ratatouille. I postponed the nap routine long enough to get the peppers and onions sauteing in one pan and the eggplant in another. I chopped the zucchini and left my husband with instructions to finish the eggplant and start the squash while I did the nap routine. Ellis went to sleep easily and I had that ratatouille done in another 20 minutes or so!
My husband and I sat down with a glass of red wine and our ratatouille at 1:15 on the sunny porch. I probably hadn’t eaten this dish since last October and was just overcome by the perfection of it, as I am every year. For about two months every summer/fall all the ingredients for this classic french vegetable dish are available and even abundant. And the combination of flavors and textures is just unbeatable.
I won’t even attempt any claim of authentic preparation since I think it’s one of those dishes that has as many versions as cooks making it, but I am a believer in my technique and will encourage you to give it a try. It may seem like a lot of steps but it really comes together quickly and just entails a bit of chopping, none of which has to be terribly precise for this dish. And it’s even better the next day and is always best at room temperature. I, however, did not take the time to wait for that on Saturday . . . .
The next morning, having no bread in the house, I decided to make Ratatouille Breakfast Burritos. I scrambled a few eggs, chopped a bunch of parsley and grated a bit of cheese (feta would have been good too I think) and rolled the whole thing up in a whole-wheat tortilla. They were unbelievably good!
Quantities listed here are just guidelines so use what you have but you want to have more or less equal amounts of zucchini, eggplant, onion, and pepper, a bit less tomato and just a sprinkling of herbs and garlic at the end.
3 sweet red peppers (or 6-7 skinny Jimmy Nardello peppers–pictured above, now available in the Portland area farmers markets), cut into about 1 inch chunks
1 small-medium white or yellow onion or Walla Walla Sweet, cut into 1/2 dice
1 medium-large (or several small) eggplants, cut into 1/2 inch dice
2 medium zucchini or other summer squash such as patty pan or yellow crookneck, cut into slices or 1/2 inch dice
2 medium tomatoes, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
10 or so leaves of basil or tablespoon of fresh oregano (or a combination), finely chopped
Heat 1 tablespoon or so of olive oil (don’t skimp on the oil in this dish!) each in two large saute pans over high heat. Add the onions and peppers to one of the pans. Sprinkle generously with salt. Add the eggplant to the other and do the same. Stir well to coat veggies with a little oil. Continue cooking over fairly high heat, stirring occasionally. You want to soften the vegetables and browning them a little is fine. Turn down to med-high and continue cooking until they’re soft. Turn off the peppers and onions but leave in the pan. Remove eggplant and set aside on a plate, add another tablespoon of olive oil to that pan and add zucchini, salt well and cook, stirring frequently until they’re soft. Add eggplant, zucchini and diced tomato to the onions and peppers. Over high heat bring it to a boil–the tomatoes will give off a bit of liquid–reduce to medium-high and cook for about 5-7 minutes until much of the liquid from the tomatoes has been cooked off. Add the garlic and herbs, cook for about 2 more minutes. Turn off heat, adjust for salt, drizzle generously with good extra virgin olive oil and voila!
Best warm or at room temperature but I don’t blame you if can’t resist digging right in. Wonderful with good, crusty bread, over pasta, with eggs, a green salad, etc.
P.S. I’ve just planned and posted my October and November class schedule including some soup classes, an everyday baking class, a fall preserving one focused on tomato and onion jams, etc.
It’s fun, it’s a treat, it can hold most anything, and it’s really good and easy to make at home. Whether you buy pre-made pizza dough or make it yourself (we’ll be doing the latter in class next week) it really is an easy meal. I forget about it for periods and then when something inspires me to make one I always wonder why I don’t do it more often. The dough is easy to freeze so mix up a double batch and save half.
I’m teaching a Pizza Class next Thursday, August 26 from 5-7:30pm We’re going to be making fresh pizzas with homemade dough with Jim Lahey’s (of No Knead Bread fame) wonderful pizza dough recipe. Three kinds will be on the menu: Stewed Red Peppers and Sausage; Classic Margarita with tomatoes, basil and mozzarella, and Potato.
I’ve had many requests for this class and already have requests for repeating it though this class isn’t even full yet. So, if you’ve been meaning to learn or refresh your skills on pizza making, sign up. Three spots left.
I used to buy Salad Rolls for lunch when I worked downtown from one of my favorite food carts. They were fresh and inexpensive and the peanut sauce was addictive. And I didn’t have to wait in line since they were ready-made and I always had exact change. Sounds pretty rushed for the devoted “Slow Foodie” that I am. . . . but sometimes work called!
Now many years later, I’ve finally learned to make them. I held a private cooking class this weekend and was asked to teach an Asian-inspired menu. Salad rolls were the first thing that came to mind so that was our starter.
This dish brought with it a conversation (mostly with myself) about using local produce. My classes/menus (and my everyday cooking) are driven by the produce I buy at the farmers’ markets. All of a sudden I found myself wanting/needing basil, mint, and cilantro–none of which are at local farmers’ markets right now. I bit the bullet and bought these things at the grocery store. I actually buy cilantro at the grocery store occasionally without giving it much thought but not the basil and mint. I grow both, but the mint is barely peeking out of the ground at the moment and of course the basil is months away. Now I do buy oranges and bananas in the winter and plenty of other non-local staples but because of the plethora of wonderful veggies that do grow here year-round, I’ve never really bought much produce out of season. I’m bemused and interested by my mental games and parameters I’ve somewhat unwittingly developed. More on this in a later post and I’m curious to hear your thoughts on the subject. . . .
My conclusion, post salad roll making and eating, is that a) I’ll plant more basil this year, and add cilantro to the mix (hoping it doesn’t bolt too fast) and b) I’ll occasionally indulge in salad rolls out-of-season too. They were just so good and so light and fresh after months of heavier winter fare.
So, now to the recipe. I adapted recipes from Gourmet for both the rolls and the peanut sauce. I made enough changes that I’m posting my versions here, but here’s also the original in case you’re curious.
Herb Salad Spring Rolls – adapted from Gourmet
1 ounce bean-thread (cellophane) noodles
1 ½ tablespoons rice vinegar
eight 8-inch rounds rice paper plus additional in case some tear
1 green onion (scallion), cut into 2-inch julienne strips
1/4 cup finely shredded carrot
3 oz firm tofu, well-drained and cut into thin strips
1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, washed well and spun dry
1/4 cup fresh mint leaves, washed well and spun dry
1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves, washed well and spun dry
In a bowl soak noodles in very hot water to cover 15 minutes and drain well in a colander. With scissors cut remaining noodles into 3 to 4-inch lengths and in a small bowl toss with vinegar and salt to taste.
In a shallow baking pan or cake pan soak 2 rounds rice paper in hot water to cover until very pliable, 45 seconds to 1 minute.
Lay a dry dish towel on a large, flat dinner plate. Carefully spread 1 soaked round on it and blot top with other half of dish towel. Peel paper off and place on plate (it will stick to the towel if you leave it on the towel). Leave remaining round in water, and blot with dish towel. Arrange several basil leaves on bottom half of sheet, leaving a 1-inch border along edge. Top basil with about one-fourth of noodles, arranging them in a line across lettuce. Top noodles with one-fourth each of scallion, carrot, tofu, and cilantro and mint. Roll up filling tightly in rice paper, folding insides after first roll to completely enclose filling, and continue rolling.
Blot remaining soaked rice paper round on dish towel and blot other side then move to the plate. Wrap rice paper around spring roll in same manner. (Double wrapping covers any tears and makes roll more stable and easier to eat.) Wrap spring roll in rinsed and squeezed dish or paper towel and put in a resealable plastic bag. Make 3 more rolls with remaining ingredients in same manner. Rolls may be made 1 day ahead and chilled. Before serving, bring rolls to room temperature.
Halve rolls diagonally and serve with spicy peanut sauce.
Spicy Peanut Sauce – adapted from Gourmet
3 garlic cloves, minced
1-2 teaspoons finely grated fresh ginger
1/4 teaspoon dried hot red pepper flakes, or 1 small Serrano chili, minced, or to taste
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
4 tablespoons creamy peanut butter
2 tablespoons soy sauce, more to taste
3/4 cup water
Juice of 1 lime, more to taste
In a small saucepan cook garlic and red pepper flakes or Serrano and ginger in oil over moderate heat, stirring, until garlic is golden. Whisk in remaining ingredients (except lime) and bring to a boil, whisking. Simmer sauce, whisking, until thickened, about 1 minute. Remove from heat and whisk in lime or lemon juice. Sauce may be made 3 days ahead and chilled, covered.