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don't call it a salad! It might be the best pizza on earth

don’t call it a salad! It might be the best pizza on earth

In this week’s share:

  • arugula
  • potatoes
  • head of green lettuce
  • Napa cabbage
  • red and orange bell peppers
  • eggplant
  • sungold cherry tomatoes
  • jalapeño peppers
  • basil
  • parsley

Secret Recipe for Perfect Pizza

I don’t do a lot of things well, but if there’s one thing I freely brag about, it’s my pizza. My mom always made her own pizza dough, and as a result “pizza night” for me was never a phone call to Domino’s, but a special occasion full of its own rituals and mysteries: the bubbling mug of yeasty water, the smooth surface of the just-formed mounds of dough, the bulge of the dish towel as the dough ballooned to twice its original size, and the tantalizing smell of the pizza crust as it baked to crispy perfection. Inevitably, I would burn my tongue in a rush to sample the first pie out of the oven, but it was worth it. As a teenager, my mom’s pizza recipe was one of the first dishes I learned to make on my own, and I started perfecting my technique as soon as I had my first college kitchen. I like to think my pizza dough played no small role in convincing Mandy of my suitability as a mate.

The most incredible thing about my mom’s pizza recipe is that it’s almost comically easy. Part of what makes it so easy is that we use a food processor. But you can certainly make it by hand in a large bowl; it just takes longer to get the right consistency. And consistency is the key here. You want to mix the dough until it holds together as a cohesive ball, but is still sticky and elastic. The less excess flour you use, the more pliable the dough and the thinner and lighter your crust. It takes some practice, but it’s well worth the effort. Without further ado, here’s the Roos family not-so-secret pizza dough recipe:

Homemade Pizza Dough (makes 2 pizzas)

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup warm water (if it’s too hot, it will kill the yeast)
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 3 tsp active dry yeast
  • 3 1/4 cups unbleached white flour (pizza is one of the few recipes in which we insist on using white flour, not whole wheat)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • scant 1 cup water

Directions:

  1. gently stir the sugar and yeast into the warm water and let sit until foamy, about 5 minutes
  2. meanwhile, put the flour and salt in a food processor
  3. add the yeast mixture and pulse a couple of times to blend
  4. slowly add the water, pulsing repeatedly until the dough forms into a ball. It’s OK if it still sticks a little to the sides as the ball rolls around inside the processor. A little sticky is better than overly dry. Run the food processor for another minute to knead the dough further.
  5. Sprinkle some flour on the bottom of a large mixing bowl. Dust your hands with flour and transfer the dough into the mixing bowl. Form it into a smooth ball and cover with a generous dusting of flour. Cover the bowl with a dish towel and leave it in a warm place for at least 1 hour, more if you have time.
  6. In your oven, position one rack on the lowest level and another in the middle. Pre-heat to 500F or as high as your oven goes
  7. Punch down the dough, but don’t knead it. Divide it in two. I don’t toss the dough in the air or anything. Dust your hands with more flour. Holding the dough in front of you, gently stretch it into a rough circle shape without ripping holes in it. Lay it in the center of an oiled pan and, working from the middle, gently push and dough toward the edges of the pan. I prefer a nice thin crust with thicker edges.
  8. Add your preferred toppings and bake for roughly 10 minutes. Place one pizza on each rack and switch places half way through to ensure a nice crispy bottom

Why It’s Pizza Season

You’re getting the first fall arugula this week and the last of those sugary-sweet Sungold cherry tomatoes. These two ingredients form the foundation of what Mandy and I believe to be the best pizza on the planet. The rest of the year, we make the standard sauce-and-cheese pizzas topped with all manner of deliciousness — braised kale and crisp bacon, potatoes and pesto, a thick layer of sauteed baby bella mushrooms — but when it’s arugula season, we make our favorite. We fell in love with this unusual flavor combination at an authentic brick-oven pizzeria in none other than Guadalajara, Mexico. It’s an arugula, cherry tomato and shaved parmesan pizza, but the only thing that’s actually “cooked” is the crust. The combination of warm crispy crust, popping tomato flavor, and spicy greens is unbeatable. Here’s how you make it:

  1. Once you’ve stretched the raw dough onto the pan, drizzle it with olive oil and spread the oil all over the surface of the dough with your hand. Sprinkle with sea salt and liberal amounts of shaved or shredded parmesan cheese. Pop it in the oven and cook as above, watching carefully so it doesn’t burn (might take less than 10 minutes)
  2. While the pizza is cooking, wash 15 to 20 cherry tomatoes and slice them in half
  3. Wash and spin two generous handfuls of arugula
  4. The second the nearly naked pizza emerges from the oven, cover it with a layer of cherry tomatoes and top with a pile of arugula and some more parmesan cheese. Slice and serve immediately!

Other Great Arugula Ideas

  • replace the lettuce on your BLT or next sandwich with arugula
  • toss it into your salad for a bite of extra flavor
  • sauté it into your scrambled eggs
Fall potatoes provide a hearty base for veggie-heavy stews, soups and curries

Fall potatoes provide a hearty base for veggie-heavy stews, soups and curries

Fall Potatoes

The first potatoes of summer — rightfully called “new” potatoes — are waxy and dense, making them ideal for slow-roasting. If you leave those same potatoes in the ground, the tubers grow bigger and the flesh gets lighter and starchier. Harvested in the fall, these bigger potatoes make great baking varieties and transform into delectably creamy and smooth whipped potatoes (generous amounts of butter and cream help, too). They also provide some heft to late-summer stews, soups and curries.

attack of fennel boy!

attack of fennel boy!

In this week’s share:

  • fennel
  • napa cabbage
  • green beans
  • sweet onions
  • red and orange bell peppers
  • jalapeño peppers
  • zucchini and summer squash
  • kale and collard greens
  • a few random tomatoes
  • garlic
  • parsley
  • basil

Changing Gears in the Garden

Despite the warm weather (where were you in July, pal?), the garden is shifting gears into the flavors of fall. Everybody loves fall, because the food is so warm and comforting, the nights are cool and crisp, and the colors are dazzling. Fall has a melancholy edge, though. The kids are back in school, there are soccer and softball practices to run to, and the long lazy days of summer are starting to fade into memory. I, for one, will not miss the tomatoes. There gets to be a point — I think it was two weeks ago — when it’s near impossible to keep up with the tsunami of ripe fruit. And the smell of rotting tomatoes… blech. It’s enough to cure me of tomato fever for at least another year. There are still a few hanging from the withering vines, but you’ll only get a couple tomorrow.

Fall Means Fennel

I’m a big fennel fan. I know that it’s a relative newcomer to many of our CSA members, but it’s worth some experimentation. First thing to know about fennel is which part to eat. In most recipes, the only part you eat is the layered white bulb at the base of the plant. The long celery-looking “arms” of the fennel plant are called stalks and a few recipes, especially soups or stews, call for those. The dill-looking stuff is called the frond and can be chopped finely and used as an herb.

What does fennel taste like? It’s crisp and sweet with a mild anise flavor. Some people wrongly say it tastes like licorice, but I don’t particularly like licorice and I love fennel. Shaved thinly, it makes a great raw salad that pairs well with an orange juice vinaigrette. Try this Fennel and Red Pepper Salad or thinly slice this week’s napa cabbage for a Fennel and Cabbage Slaw. We’re excited to try a recipe out of the Jerusalem cookbook for Saffron Chicken and Herb Salad which uses thin-sliced fennel as the base for a bright, herb-infused, orange-dressed salad.

Fennel’s deepest flavor comes out during a slow braise. Alongside onions, it caramelizes beautifully, getting soft and brown and super sweet. It’s a natural partner for sweet italian sausage, which is typically flavored with anise seeds, fennel’s cousin. For a soul-warming fall dish, try this Braised Fennel with Sausage recipe from Lidia Bastianich, or the Ziti with Sausage, Onions and Fennel. We have her book Lidia’s Italian-American Kitchen, where I got this simple shrimp and fennel pasta recipe:

Shells with Fennel and Shrimp

Ingredients:

  • 1 fennel bulb, quartered, plus 3TB shopped fennel fronds (use the tender, fern-like shoots from the middle)
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 4 cloves of garlic, peeled
  • 1 pound raw shrimp, shelled and deveined
  • 1 pound pasta shells
  • 2 TB unsalted butter
  • chopped kale or collard green (optional, but encouraged!) — you could also add finely chopped napa cabbage to this
  • salt and crushed red pepper to taste

Directions:

  1. set a large pot of salted water to boil
  2. drop the fennel in the boiling water and fish it out after 3 minutes. When cool, slice fennel into thin strips
  3. cook the pasta in the same water and reserve 1/2 cup of the cooking liquid
  4. in a heavy skillet, heat the oil over medium
  5. whack the garlic with the side of a chef’s knife and add to the coil, stirring constantly until lightly golden and fragrant
  6. add the shrimp and cook, tossing frequently, until just pink, about 2 min. Remove shrimp and garlic
  7. melt the butter in the pan and add the chopped greens, seasoning with salt and crushed red pepper
  8. add the sliced fennel along with the reserved pasta liquid and bring to a lively simmer
  9. when the fennel is soft and the sauce is slightly thickened — about 10 minutes — add the shrimp to the pan, season with more salt and/or red pepper and stir into the pasta, garnishing with the fennel fronds

More Fennel Ideas!

Napa Cabbage is Back

This is a returning fall favorite in the garden. Often it’s one of the last treats of the season, but it’s arrived early this year. Like the savoy cabbage we planted in the spring, napa cabbage is curly-leaved and delicate, perfect for slaws, but it also goes great in stir-frys and pasta dishes. I’ll probably try to make kimchi again, with the usual mix of fear and trepidation.  Otherwise, here are some ideas to get you started:

as usual, we have LOTS of red peppers

as usual, we have LOTS of red peppers

Red Peppers Out the Wazoo

The red and orange bell peppers are simply exploding right now, which is great, because have you checked the price of organic bell peppers recently? These things are like red gold. I know we’re giving you a crazy amount of peppers each week, but don’t let them go to waste! Bell peppers are literally the easiest thing to freeze. Cut out the stem and seed pod, slice into strips and throw into a freezer bag. Done. When you’re ready to use them in fajitas or a stir-fry, don’t bother defrosting them. Just toss them into a hot pan and they’ll defrost instantly while retaining some of their original crispiness. For best results: lay the pepper slices in a single layer on a cookie sheet and slide into the freezer. The next morning, transfer the individually frozen strips to a freezer bag.

 

thick flesh and fewer seeds make paste tomatoes ideal for sauce

thick flesh and fewer seeds make paste tomatoes ideal for sauce

In the share this week:

  • large paste tomatoes
  • heirloom slicing tomatoes
  • golden cherry tomatoes
  • tomatillos
  • eggplant
  • red and orange bell peppers
  • jalapeño peppers
  • zucchini and summer squash
  • cucumber
  • kale and collard greens
  • basil
  • parsley
  • cilantro

When Life Gives You Tomatoes…

We’ve been mushing up a lot of tomatoes lately. The kids get a supreme kick out of cranking halved tomatoes through our strainer and watching the discarded skins and seeds get “pooped out” the other end. The result is a smooth and very watery puree that we freeze or can for mid-winter meals, when the scent of overripe tomatoes stacked in the basement has long since faded. We’ve been processing lots of those big heirloom tomatoes because they move so quickly from underripe to the “we have to eat this right now or else” phase. But heirlooms are not ideal for sauce, because their flesh is so watery and delicate.

The best choice for sauce is a paste tomato. Their flesh is thick and firm and carries much less water than other varieties. In my first couple of seasons, I planted the famous San Marzano tomato, whose name alone will double the price of canned tomatoes. The San Marzano is a beautiful tomato, but I feel like something was lost in translation between the volcanic foothills of southern Italy to my humble Western PA garden. The plants grew large and bushy, but the fruit took forever to ripen and often ended up undersized or diseased.

This year I lucked out with a variety from Johnny’s Selected Seeds called Granadero. The large, perfectly oval fruit came on quickly, but has been slow to mature (maybe that’s true of all paste varieties?). I’ve nervously watched the late blight attack the Granadero plants, but the fruit are mostly unscathed. We picked a ton of them last week a little on the underripe side to ensure a good ripe crop for this week’s share.

It’s been hot and muggy this past week, so nobody feels like slaving over a hot oven making a slow-simmered tomato sauce. With these beautiful tomatoes, fast and fresh is best. Try this easy sauce recipe served with your favorite sauteed vegetables over pasta.

Fresh Tomato Sauce

Ingredients:

  • 3 TB olive oil
  • 2 cloves of garlic, crushed, but not chopped
  • 1 tsp red pepper flakes (optional)
  • 8 to 10 large paste tomatoes, roughly chopped
  • handful of chopped fresh basil

Directions:

  1. heat oil in a heavy bottom skillet over medium heat until shimmering
  2. add the garlic and red pepper flakes (optional), stirring so the garlic doesn’t burn
  3. add the chopped tomatoes and adjust the heat so that the tomatoes actively simmer
  4. over the next 10 minutes, stir occasionally, using a spatula or wooden spoon to crush the cooking tomatoes into a chunky sauce
  5. remove the garlic cloves, add the basil and serve over pasta with other veggies from this week (kale, squash, peppers, eggplant, etc.)

Ratatouille

A meal that’s as fun to say as it’s delicious to eat. There is no better way to plow through end-of-summer produce like preparing this French country favorite. There are lots of ways to do this, but I like Alice Waters’ ratatouille recipe that incorporates just about everything from this week’s share in one steamy pot. This goes great with some crusty sourdough bread for dipping.

my farm helpers squeezing in one more harvest before the school year begins

my farm helpers squeezing in one more harvest before the school year begins

New and Improved Salsa Verde

I encourage you to try this new version of tomatillo salsa from Cooks Illustrated that uses half roasted tomatillos and half raw. It gives the salsa a fruity tang that my fully roasted recipe was lacking. This salsa is great with chips or as a topping for tacos, burritos, pretty much anything delicious.

Salsa Verde (Tomatillo-Jalapeño Salsa)

Ingredients:

  • 8 tomatillos, divided into 2 groups of 4
  • 1 jalapeño pepper, stem and seeds removed
  • half of an onion, diced
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced
  • handful of chopped fresh cilantro
  • juice of 1 lime (3 TB lime juice)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 TB olive oil
  • salt and sugar to taste

Directions:

  1. Preheat a broiler to high, setting the top rack 6 inches from the element
  2. coat 4 of the tomatillos in olive oil and place on a foil-covered pan. Broil until the tomatillos are blackened in places and the skin is beginning to burst
  3. slide the roasted tomatillos into a food processor or blender
  4. cut the remaining 4 tomatillos in half and add to the food processor
  5. put in the jalapeño, onion, garlic, cilantro, lime juice and salt
  6. process until fully mixed, but still chunky
  7. pour the salsa into a serving dish and stir in the olive oil and more salt and sugar to taste

More Recipe Links

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In the share this week:

  • sweet corn
  • cucumbers
  • heirloom tomatoes
  • paste tomatoes
  • Sungold cherry tomatoes
  • green zucchini and yellow summer squash
  • red and orange bell peppers
  • jalapeño peppers
  • Asian greens, collard greens & kale
  • garlic
  • basil
  • cilantro
  • parsley
Another pile of sweet corn is on the way

Another pile of sweet corn is on the way

Sweet Corn is Back!

This is the first time I’ve successfully succession-planted sweet corn, so prepare to enjoy a second round of this classic summertime treat, just in time for a welcome spell of hot and dry weather. If you want something different than the usual corn on the cob, try this easy corn and black bean salad that can be scooped up with tortilla chips.

Corn, Cherry Tomato & Black Bean Salad

Ingredients:

  • 2 ears of sweet corn, cooked until just tender
  • 15 cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 can of black beans, washed and drained
  • 1 can of red kidney beans, washed and drained (optional)
  • 1/4 of a white onion, finely chopped
  • 1 clove of garlic, finely minced
  • 1 jalapeño, seeds removed and finely chopped (optional)
  • juice of 2 small limes or 2 TB bottled lime juice
  • chopped fresh cilantro
  • salt to taste

Directions:

A Really Good Gazpacho

Gazpacho is a chilled summer soup that’s made by throwing the entire high-summer harvest into a blender. As refreshing as it sounds, I’m usually not a gazpacho fan. Done wrong, it can taste like you’re drinking bland salsa. But we found a great gazpacho recipe from the Kitchen Garden Cookbook, another thoughtful gift from my sister. I think it’s the vinegar that gives it its balanced brightness. We added our own twist to the recipe by roasting the tomatoes first, mellowing the acidic tomato flavor. This recipe is great for those great big heirloom tomatoes. It also helps to have a hand-cranked tomato strainer to easily remove seeds and skin.

Tomato Gazpacho with Roasted Pepper & Cucumber

Ingredients:

  • 5 lbs tomatoes, quartered; juicy heirlooms work great
  • 1 red bell pepper
  • 2 small or one large cucumber, peeled and seeded
  • 2 cloves of garlic, coarsely chopped
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 tsp sherry vinegar or apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tsp salt or to taste

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 400F
  2. Arrange the quartered tomato pieces in a single layer in one large — or a couple of smaller — glass baking dishes. Drizzle tomatoes generously with olive oil and toss with your hands to coat. Roast tomatoes in the oven for 20 to 30 minutes until very soft and the skin is blackened on the bottom
  3. While tomatoes are cooking, roast the red bell pepper over an open flame on a gas range, rotating frequently until it’s blackened on all sides. If you have an electric range, use a gas grill or broil at close range. Wrap the roasted pepper in a clean dish towel and allow the pepper to steam its skin loose. Unwrap the pepper and rub off the charred black skin with your thumbs. Run under cold water to remove the last stubborn flecks. Cut open the roasted pepper and remove the seeds and stem. Roughly chop the rest.
  4. Let the tomatoes cool, then run through a tomato strainer (strongly encouraged) or remove skin and seeds by hand
  5. Working in batches, blend the roasted tomatoes (and juice) with roasted peppers and the rest of the ingredients in a blender until smooth
  6. Let the soup cool for 2 hours in the fridge or overnight
  7. Serve in small bowls or mugs with a dollop of good olive oil and some fresh chopped parsley or cilantro

IMG_20140820_123019

Save Those Tomatoes

The warm weather and sunshine has ripened an unprecedented pile of tomatoes for this week’s share. If you can’t keep up with the bounty, here are some easy ways to preserve that fresh tomato flavor for later:

  • quarter and roast heirloom tomatoes using the method above from the gazpacho recipe. Either run the tomatoes through a strainer to remove skins and seeds, or put the whole roasted mess, seeds and all, into sealable freezer bags. Instead of opening a can of diced tomatoes for a winter stew or chili, defrost the bag.
  • for paste tomatoes, score the blossom end (opposite of the stem) with a small x and drop in boiling water for 30 seconds. Scoop them out with a slotted spoon and transfer to a bowl of ice water. The skin should be loose enough to peel off easily. Either pack them into freezer bags as is, or half and remove seeds. Defrosted, they’ll make a great base for a fresh pasta sauce
  • the easiest method is to freeze whole raw tomatoes. No chopping, no roasting, no strainers. Just put the ripe tomato in a freezer bag and voila. When it defrosts, it will be mushy, but very flavorful, perfect as a base for stews, soups and sauces

Brighten Up Grilled Vegetables with Herbs

In that same cookbook, the Kitchen Garden Cookbook, I found a great recipe for a simple seasonal herb paste called a sauce verte (green). The author uses any green herb on hand and blends up small batches of this garlicky, olive-oil paste to toss with any assortment of grilled or roasted veggies all season long. It would be great, for example, on grilled slices of zucchini and summer squash, which don’t have a lot of flavor on their own. Here’s a sauce verte that you can whip up using this week’s basil, parsley and garlic. After you grill or roast the zucchini, squash, peppers, eggplant, potatoes, etc. simply toss with 1/3 cup of this herb-infused paste and serve with a little more fresh-chopped parsley.

Sauce Verte

Ingredients:

  • 1/3 cup packed basil leaves
  • 1 green onion (or a few thin slices of regular onion), coarsely chopped
  • 3 sprigs of parsley, chopped
  • 2 TB capers
  • 1 TB lemon juice
  • 1 TB oregano leaves
  • 2 tsp dijon mustard
  • 1 clove of garlic, chopped
  • 3 TB extra-virgin olive oil

Directions:

  1. Put everything except the olive oil in a food processor and pulse until finely choppped
  2. With processor running, drizzle in the olive oil. Sealed in a container, the sauce will keep for 3 days in the refrigerator
Late August brings colorful and super-sweet peppers

Late August brings colorful and super-sweet peppers

In the share this week:

  • big ‘ole sweet onions
  • red, orange and green bell peppers
  • heirloom slicing tomatoes
  • small and medium paste tomatoes
  • sungold cherry tomatoes
  • zucchini and summer squash
  • eggplant
  • jalapeño peppers
  • garlic
  • basil
  • cilantro
  • parsley

∞ Ways to Eat Peppers and Onions

You’re getting freshly pulled sweet onions this week from my friend and neighbor Beth Smith of Oak Hill Farm. Beth has been growing onions for years, so I defer to her in all things allium. May I suggest the classic combination of sliced onion and sweet bell peppers, the base of many a fantastic summer meal, including:

  • fajitas
  • gyros
  • Italian sausage
  • pizza topping
  • stir-frys

These sweet onions will also caramelize beautifully. Dark and flavorful caramelized onions are excellent on burgers, pizza, in pasta or as the base of a caramelized onion tart with apples, potatoes, cauliflower, or, of course, bacon. The key to making the best caramelized onions is “slow and low”. Use a heavy-bottomed cast iron pan or dutch oven and cook on medium-low heat for at least 30 minutes, stirring occasionally to scrape up crispy bits. Don’t stop until the onions are dark brown and super soft. Deglaze the pan with wine, stock, balsamic vinegar or water to dislodge the remaining sticky bits. For the best results, follow Bon Appetit’s Caramelized Onion Common Mistakes — And How to Avoid Them.

Stuff Those Tomatoes

We learned this recipe on our honeymoon and come back to it again and again during the height of tomato season. You can use any tomatoes for this, but the small and medium paste tomatoes (oval-shaped instead of round) are the easiest to scoop and stuff. Roast them until they’re almost falling apart and they’ll create an instant sauce when folded into your favorite pasta.

Stuffed Roasted Tomatoes & Pasta

Ingredients:

  • 10-12 medium and small tomatoes
  • 3 cloves of garlic, finely minced
  • bunch of fresh basil, chopped
  • 4 sprigs of Italian parsley, chopped
  • Italian bread crumbs, roughly 1 cup
  • olive oil
  • salt
  • your favorite pasta; linguini is good here

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 375F
  2. Grease a large baking sheet with olive oil spray
  3. Cut each tomato in half and scoop out the seeds and loose flesh into a mixing bowl. Place the halves — which now resemble oval-shaped bowls — on the baking sheet
  4. Add the garlic, parsley and chopped basil to the mixing bowl. Pour in bread crumbs a little at a time until the mixture thickens enough to stay on a spoon
  5. Add salt to taste
  6. Scoop out spoonfuls of the mixture and fill each tomato half
  7. Top each stuffed tomato with a little more bread crumbs and drizzle with olive oil
  8. Bake for 25 minutes or until tomatoes are soft and slightly charred on the bottom
  9. When you make the pasta, save a half cup of the cooking liquid
  10. Fold the whole roasted tomatoes into freshly boiled pasta, adding a little of the cooking liquid to help the tomatoes spread evenly.
  11. Serve with fresh-grated parmesan

You’re Never Too Old for Grilled Cheese and Tomato Soup

We made this for dinner last week and earned our children’s undying love for at least 20 minutes. The soup is great, but it’s greatness is multiplied by 1,000 when you dip a corner of a sourdough-cheddar grilled cheese sandwich into it.

Cream of Tomato Soup

Ingredients:

  • 4-5 lbs of tomatoes, quartered if really big
  • half a yellow onion, sliced
  • 4 cloves of garlic with the skin still on
  • olive oil
  • 4 cups of stock or broth (beef is best, but veggie and chicken work, too)
  • 1 tsp of sugar (optional)
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream, yogurt or sour cream

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 400F
  2. Generously oil the bottom of a large glass baking dish, then toss in the tomatoes, onion and garlic to coat with oil
  3. Roast the tomatoes, onion and garlic in the oven until tomatoes are nicely blackened and very soft, about 30 minutes
  4. Meanwhile, bring the stock to a simmer
  5. Let the tomatoes cool slightly, then lift away the charred skin (tongs are helpful here) and remove skin from roasted garlic
  6. Add tomatoes (with all their juices) and onion and garlic to the simmering broth. Let the flavors blend for 5 mins.
  7. Blend the soup with a hand blender or regular blender. Add sugar to taste, then stir in cream or yogurt.

There’s Always Room for (Tomato) Pie

These scrumptious tomato pie recipes employ the killer combination of tomatoes, cheese, garlic and pastry crust. Thanks again to our friend Kara for introducing us to this summertime delicacy.

 

 

a lovely Striped German specimen in full blush

a lovely Striped German specimen in full blush

 

In the share this week:

  • heirloom tomatoes
  • cherry tomatoes
  • eggplant
  • zucchini and summer squash
  • green beans
  • bell peppers
  • jalapeño peppers
  • basil
  • cilantro
  • parsley

Counting Tomatoes Before they Ripen

This summer I fell guilty to the lesser-known companion sin to “counting your chickens before they hatch.” I had the hubris to count my tomatoes before they ripened. For months, my tomato plants grew strong and full, recently growing heavy with swollen green fruit. Despite the relatively cool weather, I didn’t spot the early signs of blight that had already overtaken my plants in years past. So I pronounced with Nostradamus-like certainty that this year would be a record year for tomatoes. Then I went out of town for 5 days…

A lot can change in less than a week, apparently. Through no fault of my wonderful mother, who lovingly picked tomatoes and green beans in my absence, the first destructive flush of early blight has entered the field, wreaking havoc on the orange tomatoes and making headways into the cherry and paste tomatoes. Once it’s begun, there’s no effective organic way of stopping it. We can only hope for dry weather — good luck! — and some sunshine to slow the spread of spores. The good news is that we are sure to have several more weeks of excellent tomatoes, but perhaps not the boon I was prematurely predicting.

the summer harvest is in full swing

the summer harvest is in full swing

Eggplant Ideas

If you’re like me then you need some new ideas for cooking up those beautiful bulging eggplants we’ve been getting. Just in time — and for no apparent reason — I received a free copy of Cook’s Illustrated featuring a recipe for Eggplant Involtini, a fancy Italian word for “stuffed eggplant roll-ups.” Since I’m too cheap to pay for a subscription to this fairly awesome magazine, I can’t share the recipe link online, so here’s my even simpler version of this already pretty darn simple and satisfying eggplant dish.

Eggplant Involtini

Ingredients:

  • homemade marinara sauce or a jar of purchased tomato sauce
  • 2 eggplants, sliced lengthwise into 1/2-inch thick planks
  • olive oil
  • 2 links of sweet or hot Italian sausage (optional)
  • 8 ounces ricotta cheese
  • cup of bread crumbs
  • 3/4 cup shredded parmesan cheese
  • handful of chopped fresh basil
  • few sprigs of chopped fresh parsley

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 375
  2. If you’re making the marinara sauce from scratch, start that simmering first
  3. brush both sides of each slice of eggplant with olive oil and sprinkle generously with salt. place on baking sheets and bake for 30 minutes until slightly browned and soft
  4. (optional) while eggplant is cooking, brown and crumble the Italian sausage in a frying pan and transfer to some paper towels to drain excess oil
  5. in a small bowl, combine the ricotta and 1/2 cup of the parmesan cheese, bread crumbs, basil and parsley along with salt and pepper to taste. If you’re using the sausage, add that to the mix, too
  6. if you’re using jarred tomato sauce, pour it into a large, oven-safe frying pan and start heating it over low until it starts to bubble
  7. once the eggplant has cooled down, plop a large spoonful of the cheese/sausage mixture on the fatter end of each slice of eggplant. Roll up the eggplant like a rug and place each stuffed roll in the simmering marinara/tomato sauce
  8. sprinkle the remaining parmesan cheese over the rolls and slip the whole frying pan into the oven for 10 minutes as the flavors meld and the cheese filling softens to an admirable ooze
  9. serve alone or over pasta

Another eggplant option is to to try a version of this baked tomato and eggplant tian, an easy layered casserole that’s also great with thinly sliced zucchini or squash in the mix. See the blurry cell phone pic of tonight’s dinner below…

the picture doesn't do this tomato, eggplant and squash "tian" justice. it was tast-ee

the picture doesn’t do this tomato, eggplant and squash “tian” justice. it was tast-ee

Tomato-Jalapeño Salsa

The cilantro is quickly bolting — sending its seed-bearing shoots skyward in preparation for death — so I’m going to harvest as much as I can salvage this week. If you can’t use it, just wash and dry it and stick it straight in a freezer bag. Frozen cilantro holds its flavor excellently and is a great addition to fall and winter Mexican meals. In the meantime, set aside some of this week’s juicy tomatoes for a classic salsa.

Easy Blender Salsa

This is basically the same  salsa mexicana recipe, but less chopping!

3-4 medium or 2 large tomatoes, roughly chopped

half a white onion, roughly chopped

1 jalapeño, seeded (or not, if you dare) and roughly chopped

1 clove of garlic, minced

lots of cilantro, don’t bother chopping, stems and all

juice of one lime (or 1 TB of cider vinegar)

1/4 tsp salt

1/4 tsp sugar

1/4 tsp cumin

  1. Put everything in the blender or food processor and pulse until it reaches your desired consistency (we prefer it on the chunky side) and pop it in a tupperware in the fridge. Lasts for days.
not only are those boxes handy for preventing smushed tomatoes, but they're reusable, so please return!

not only are those boxes handy for preventing smushed tomatoes, but they’re reusable, so please return!

Rustic Italian Bread Salad

I can’t help reposting one of our favorite mid-summer dishes. Here’s our version of the classic panzanella:

1 day-old loaf of crusty sourdough or other rustic white bread, sliced thickly

olive oil for painting the bread

1 clove of garlic, cut in half

1 summer squash, sliced thinly lengthwise

1 eggplant, sliced thinly lengthwise

15-20 cherry and plum tomatoes, halved or quartered

handful of basil leaves, chopped

balsamic dressing, homemade or bottled

grated parmesan cheese to taste

  1. Preheat oven to 450 F
  2. Paint both sides of the bread slices with olive oil and place on a large baking sheet. Bake for about 8-10 minutes, flipping the slices over once. You want them to be nicely browned, but not burnt.
  3. Remove tray, and while bread is still warm, rub both sides with the cut end of the garlic. Let the bread cool.
  4. Grill or saute the sliced squash and eggplant until nicely browned and soft. Season with some coarse-ground salt and chop roughly
  5. When bread is cool, cut it into 1-inch cubes
  6. Toss everything together in a big bowl: bread, veggies, tomatoes, basil and parmesan
  7. 30 minutes before serving, dress lightly with balsamic dressing and toss well

 

sweet corn is the official flavor of summer

sweet corn is the official flavor of summer

In the share this week:

  • sweet corn
  • green beans
  • heirloom slicing tomatoes
  • sungold cherry tomatoes
  • zucchini and summer squash
  • cucumbers
  • eggplant
  • green peppers
  • garlic
they're finally ready!

they’re finally ready!

Sweet Success

A few weeks ago, the fist tufts of pink corn silk emerged from the corn plants. Since then, I’ve been obsessively checking the ears every few days to track the progress of the corn, wondering which week will finally be corn week. I’m pleased to announce that that fateful day has arrived. So get out your corny corn holders (ours were always miniature plastic ears of corn), grab a dispenser of dental floss, and get ready to husk!

Honestly this corn is sweet and tender enough to eat raw, straight from the cob. But if you’re going to cook it, toss it into already boiling salted water and don’t let it simmer more than 5 minutes. You want those kernels to really pop! Grilled corn is also exceptional. Keep the husk on the corn and place it over a hot grill (or directly in the embers of a campfire). Turn occasionally for about 15 minutes until it’s well blackened on the outside. The inside will be steamy and sweet. You can also husk the corn and grill it wrapped in tin foil for a cleaner steam. For more details, check out 3 ways to grill corn.

colorful (and a few colossal) heirloom tomatoes

colorful (and a few colossal) heirloom tomatoes

Your Grandma’s Tomatoes

Heirloom vegetable varieties are plants that have been passed down for generations using open-pollinated seeds. Open-pollinated means what it sounds like, the plants produce fruit from their own kind with the help of busy bees. The result is a seed that is genetically similar (not identical) to its mother plant. Hybrid plant varieties, on the other hand, are the product of an intentional “cross” by a plant breeder. There’s nothing “unnatural” about hybrids — the breeders cross two plants to produce beneficial characteristics, like firmer flesh, better disease resistance or new and interesting colors. But the seeds that hybrids produce are genetically unpredictable and, if planted, may look nothing like the fruit they were “born” from. That’s why you can only save open-pollinated seeds.

Heirloom tomatoes are generally considered to be any seed variety that’s been saved for the past 50 years or more. Many of the heirloom varieties exhibit a certain wild charm and uniqueness of character that’s hard to replicate with even the most ingenious cross. Heirlooms can be beautiful and extremely flavorful, but they are also fragile. We stopped growing heirlooms during the past few seasons, because we were tired of loosing 70% of the crop to cracked fruit and disease. I fell for the well-worded marketing of the seed catalogs, which promised hybrid varieties all but impervious to blight, wilt, and canker, but I was generally disappointed in the results. Last season, which was unseasonably cool and wet, even the hardiest hybrids succumbed way too soon to disease, and the flavor of those that survived was lackluster.

So this season we’ve brought back a few of our favorite heirloom varieties along with some of the hybrids that still seem to deliver great flavor. The bigger tomatoes are just starting to blush (these past couple days of sunshine will help considerably), so you’ll soon be sampling a variety like Brandywine, a beefy red tomato known for its juicy flesh and fruity flavor. We’re also growing Striped German, an almost comically large tomato with yellow sides and a blushing red bottom. I’m excited about a favorite new orange-fleshed hybrid that produces perfectly round, peach-fleshed fruit with almost no acidity. We’ll talk more about tomatoes as the season progresses, but I have it on good authority that this is going to be a record tomato year, so get excited.

Pesto with Green Beans and Potatoes

CSA day is a day early this week, so many of you probably still have potatoes and basil from last week. I strongly suggest that you make a favorite pasta dish from our honeymoon that features the carb-on-carb brilliance of pasta with pesto, green beans and potatoes. The basil has been a little spotty this year, but hopefully we can hand out some more tomorrow to replenish your supply.

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