Summer (Cherries, Green Couscous, Garlic Scapes)

Dessert in a tree.

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

salt, pepper

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 . . .

Too Much To Say & Two Recipes

I’ve been wanting to write a post about my recent trip to NYC for Slow Food, my upcoming pizza class; the wedding cake I made this summer; the annual Deumling Goat Roast (you have to scroll down a bit on this link for the photos); what’s in my freezer and why; how I source my products; why cooking is as much art as science,  . . . .And instead of any of those I’m going to write about what I made for dinner last night. I’ll eventually cover the above topics (though you might have to remind me) but I felt compelled to write about last night’s dish and the process of making it because it seems that the last-minute, creative, sometimes-under-duress kind of cooking that I often talk about is of interest.

I had an exhilarating but long weekend of teaching and often the Monday after I have little inspiration left. I am a bit under the weather too and didn’t know what to make. It had to be quick and couscous is by far the fastest starch in my pantry. I had one big, beautiful tomato, some summer squash (which I quickly diced and sautéed) and feta so I figured all together that would be a good start.

Then I remembered some hard-boiled eggs in the fridge from a few days ago and the basil that needed picking in the backyard. I made a very lemony dressing with garlic, a bit of hot chili pepper, black pepper and good olive oil and within about 15 minutes total I had a lovely, fresh, light meal in a bowl!

And I have to admit I was being casual with my measurements and did not stick to the 1 cup of couscous to one cup of liquid rule and used more water. At first I feared the couscous would be too gummy once I started fluffing it with a fork, however, after a few minutes left uncovered and fluffed some more it was just fine. The dressing was perfect and the occasional salty, tangy bites of feta and rich bites of egg made for a nice, summery combo. At the end I decided it needed a bit more heft and sliced up a frozen Italian pork sausage, quickly fried it and added that to. My husband was concerned this ad-hoc dish might suffer from what we somewhat disdainfully refer to as ingredient pile-up, but luckily it did not and each ingredient added something relevant. So, whether or not you make this as described or use it as inspiration to combine whatever you have on hand, is immaterial. The fun part, for me at least, is coming up with something delicious even when I don’t feel like cooking and haven’t planned a thing. And if any of you know of a source for whole wheat couscous please let me know. I’ve heard such a thing exists but have not tracked it down!

And since you have to read this whole post to get a sense of this “recipe” I’m going to give you another one that I’ve been making and teaching a lot of late. It’s another perfect and fairly quick summer supper from the ever clever Mark Bittman. I’ve changed his recipe for Tomato Paella just a bit by omitting the oven step and just do the whole thing on the stove top. Works perfectly and avoids heating up the kitchen on a summer night (not that we’ve had much heat to begin with!) And I imagine you could add a handful of shrimp and/or clams during the last few minutes of cooking, cover the pan, and steam those, for a slightly more authentic paella.

Happy Cooking and Eating!