It may seem a bit early to go all harvesty on you, but the first big flush of Hudson Valley tomatoes is usually the best for both quantity and quality, so that’s the one it makes sense to put up. The season of need will be upon us sooner or later (probably later, the way the weather’s been going lately), no matter how hard that is to imagine when it’s 72 degrees at dawn.
from the garden
The words are the recipe; heat the squash, then top with cheese and peppers. The initials stand for Very Nearly Instant: about 2 minutes in the microwave, because we almost always have some baked winter squash around.
It’s one of our favorite vegetables: in the garden, where it’s quite easy to grow if you have the space, in the kitchen, of course, and up in the bedroom under the bureaus, where it’s the first thing I see – other than Bill – every morning when I awake.
Terrific way to start the day, actually. No matter how gloomy the weather or discouraging the news, here’s this good sized supply of a beautiful winter staple that’s filling, flavorful, versatile AND (blare of trumpets) requires no refrigeration, canning, freezing or other special preservation. It stays perfectly good at room temperature for an entire season.
Though I do say so myself, I make a mean rhubarb pie: elegantly plain, in the classic flaky crust plus sweetened fruit fashion; lily-painted, as in Deep Dish Rhubarb Peach Pie, and mixed with black cherry jam , as an easy rhubarb crostata that’s not really pie but is really tasty (and very nearly instant).
The pie that makes people say “ I thought I hated rhubarb, but this is wonderful!” is Carol’s Mother’s Deep Dish Rhubarb Custard Pie.
Winter is orange city around here. Quantities of peel get candied. The zest adds flavor to stews, enhances the stuffing of roast fowl, perfumes custards and cheesecakes and lends its zing to pastries from pound cake to gingerbread. Result: the fridge is frequently full of naked oranges needing to be used up.
Ok, team, time to get shopping. As mentioned last year on the way to the big chunky apple cake, even diehard farmstands will be shutting down soon, and it won’t be long before specialty groceries revert to the same yawnworthy array, much of it much travelled, offered by supermarkets.
Makes me sad just to think of it, or would if we hadn’t been apple hunting for months, munching, baking and – three cheers for an old fashioned farmhouse with side porches! – stocking up. Some of what’s currently stashed in a small space we try to keep right above freezing (heirlooms with approximate intro date):
Left to right: Wolf River (1875), Cameo, Winesap (1817), Northern Spy (1800), Pink Lady, Stayman (1895), Zabergau Reinette (1885), Tolman Sweet (pre-1822), Golden Russet (pre-1845)
Apple collecting tips and pie recipe after the jump
If you must store strawberries for more than a couple of hours, spread them out on a paper-towel lined plate so mold and bruises can’t travel.
The Theory Part
“ Doubtless God could have made a better berry, but doubtless God never did.” (Samuel Butler, at some point in the late 16th century.*)
“Doubtless the cooks who have gone before could have devised a better strawberry dessert, but doubtless they never did.” ( me, at this point in 2008, after trying many vintage recipes before settling on the shortcake that follows). Read More…
A smooth puree, accented with tender-crisp asparagus coins. Just the thing for these oxymoronic hot spring days, when it’s officially asparagus season but experientially August. We’ve stopped cutting but I see there’s still reasonably local asparagus in the stores. Read More…
SOME PLACES TO PUT FOOD BY
(so you can eat locally all year long)
Upstairs: Food Historian Sandy Oliver keeps winter squash under the bed. Bottom of the linen closet is also good; just don’t forget they’re there.
Downstairs: An unheated basement ( 35 to 45 degrees) , a second refrigerator ( or the back of the one in the kitchen) is almost a root cellar. Things to keep in it from harvest to spring: Beets, Carrots, Cabbages, Onions, Wine, Beer, Cheese.
In a cool back bedroom or similar: Potatoes. They like to be cold, but not quite as cold as other roots.
In the pantry/ food cupboard:
Dried: Wild bolete mushrooms, wild or cultivated agaricus mushrooms, tomatoes, shell beans.
Canned: Applesauce, fruit spreads, ketchup, tomatoes, roasted tomatoes for instant sauce.
In the garden: lightly mulched Parsley and Kale will survive until a very hard freeze (@ 26 degrees); the more slowly it gets cold, the more cold they can take. Chard, Brussels sprouts and Broccoli raab aren’t quite as hardy but still can stand – indeed benefit from – repeated light freezes. Many gardening and country food books, including some of mine, suggest leaving beets and carrots in the ground under a heavy mulch and then harvesting as needed. It works fine if you don’t have voles.
In the freezer: Wild mushrooms (morel, chanterelle, sulfur shelf, blewit, hen of the woods) sautéed in enough butter to be a sauce for the pasta, baked potato, winter squash or other starch that is then dinner; Toasted almond pesto or other pesto to use like the mushrooms ; Berries; Whole tomatoes for soup and sauce; Full-meal soups like Minestrone and Corn chowder, Harvest Vegetable Stews like corn, squash and pepper/ tomato, pepper and onion/ snap and shell beans with summer squash. Chickens. Your quarter of a local lamb, pig or steer, divided into the cuts you’ve ordered. Make an inventory and keep it near the freezer!( along with a pen on a string for crossing off)
and a great deal else in a minute (famous last words). For now, the recipes for an omnium-gatherum vegetable soup and a freezer friendly pesto as promised to everyone at MaineFare!
Incipient minestrone, partly gathered from my garden but not all of it because I don’t grow kale, potatoes, shell beans or carrots.
SEPTEMBER SUNSHINE MINESTRONE (aka) Harvest Vegetable Soup
This is a very general guideline; as long as you start with the flavored broth, include both starchy and delicate vegetables and use enough of them to make the soup hearty without turning it into stew, you’re in business.
Classic recipes include pasta or rice and I used to too. But now I don’t, because flexibility trumps the tiny gain in convenience you get from freezing the soup “complete.” There’s usually leftover cooked pasta or rice lying around in the fridge and when there isn’t we just use more good bread – French or Italian, generally – which IS always lying around and may be the most delicious choice anyway.
For about 12 main dish ( large ) servings:
1/3 pound lean salt pork or fatty bacon, cut in 1 inch chunks
3 large cloves garlic
½ loosely-piled cup flat-leaf parsley, leaves and tender stems
grated zest of 1 lemon
1 large onion, cut in small dice
3 quarts water – quality matters. Use filtered if your tap is chlorinated
3-4 cups root vegetables, cut in roughly ¾ inch chunks. Carrots and potatoes mostly, some parsnip and/or turnip if you like but not too much as both of these are rather aggressive.
2 cups fresh shell beans
½ cup celery in medium slices. Not thin. Not chunks.
2 cups firm summer squash, crookneck or small zucchini, cut in roughly ½ inch slices . Halve the squash the long way first if they’re more than about an inch thick.
1 ½ cups snap beans ( Romanos are lovely if you can find them) cut in 1 inch lengths.
3 cups ripe tomatoes, peeled and coarsely chopped
About 3 cups chopped kale or savoy cabbage
A good sized handful each chopped Italian parsley and basil
1. Chop pork, garlic and the half-cup parsley until it looks like hamburger – the processor is fastest ( if you don’t have to wash it by hand).
2. Put the olive oil in a heavy kettle over low heat, add the pork mixture and lemon rind and cook, stirring, until most of the pork fat is released. Add the onion and keep cooking until it is wilted and starting to turn gold.
3. Add the water and bring to a boil. Put in the root vegetables and shell beans, adjust the heat so the liquid just simmers and cook until the vegetables are about half done – no longer crisp but still somewhat tooth-resistant, 15 to 20 minutes.
4. Add celery, squash, snap beans and tomatoes and cook until the roots are tender and the snap beans are al dente, about 20 minutes more.
5. Now the kale and cooking until it’s tender, 10 to 15 minutes. Add the herbs. Let them wilt, then taste and adjust the salt.
6. Serve with pesto – your own, pistachio (scroll down to find it) or Toasted Almond (below), a better choice for freezing. Freshly grated Parmesan is traditional but if you have good local hard cheese why not experiment? You can also skip the cheese entirely or switch it 180 for an entirely new taste treat. Sprinkle some small chunks of young mozzarella over the hot soup as soon as you ladle it into the bowls. It should be somewhere between soft and melted when everyone starts eating.
Note: this produces a soup that’s just barely done, on the theory that it is going to be frozen, which softens things, then reheated, which softens them some more. If you’re planning to eat it right away, cook until the kale is almost falling apart before you add the herbs.
TOASTED ALMOND PESTO
As usual, quantities are just guidelines. Even more than usual, actually, given the difficulty of measuring fresh leaves and the enormous variability of fresh herbs. The goal is to have a fairly even mixture of almond and parsley flavors, with a strong accent of basil and a mild accent of garlic.
To make lots of this for freezing, make multiple batches; the processor heats up the pesto if you ask it to grind too much. The multiples go very fast since you don’t have to wash the processor between them.
For a scant cup, about 8 servings depending on what you’re doing with it:
1/3 cup toasted almonds. (see note about skins)
2 medium sized cloves of garlic – use large if it’s hardneck.
1/3 cup olive oil
2 loosely packed cups chopped Italian parsley, leaves and tender stems.
1 loosely packed cup basil leaves
2 or 3 leaves of sorrel or a squeeze of lemon
pinch of salt
1. Put almonds and garlic in a processor and grind, scraping down the sides from time to time, until you have fine meal. Add about a third of the oil and a teaspoon of water and grind again until you have a paste – it won’t be smooth, but it will be cohesive.
2. Add the herbs (lemon juice) and salt and about a tablespoon of water. Grind to puree. Add the remaining oil and puree again. The pesto should have the texture of thick mayonnaise. If it’s still too solid, add water in very small amounts until it’s right. The more water you add, the more beautiful the color will be. Try not to get too carried away.
Note: The most delicious way to make this is to toast the almonds in their skins; dump them into boiling water; simmer for about 3 minutes, then leave them in the hot water while you work with small batches at a time, pinching the skins off. The boiling not only loosens the skins but also softens the nuts so they grind to a smoother paste. This is not fast work.
In theory, you could buy blanched almonds, toast them, then just give them a brief swim to soften, but blanched almonds – including those hotsy totsy Marcona almonds – don’t taste as good as almonds in the skins. Must be something about the industrial blanching process. I just use the toasted almonds and leave it at that. (If you soften the almonds in their skins and then try to grind them without peeling, the skins don’t grind smoothly with the nuts).
Don’t panic. It’s only summer we’re coming to the end of. Even here in the far Northeast there’s still at least a month of delicious Romanesco zucchini, pale-skinned Middle Eastern cousa and the buttery old fashioned yellow crookneck that’s now almost exclusively a home garden delight.
At first glance, this may seem like no big deal. Zucchini and straight necked yellow squash are year-round supermarket staples, and most winter versions of these vegetables are – unlike winter tomatoes – edible. But they are also edible as in “ eat your vegetables” rather than edible as in “oh YUM! How do you make this thing?
(Squash Tortilla. See below.)
Long about now you may be thinking you’ve totally had it with zucchini, even absolutely perfect zucchini, and that if you find under the leaves or are given by an evil friend one more dark green baseball bat, you will subsist henceforth on potato chips.
But stay! There are two things to consider:
1) There’s no point in trying to stay ahead by harvesting the babies. Tiny squash with the blossoms still attached don’t taste like much of anything no matter how fresh they are.
The one on the left is about 1 day from perfect; the flower is just opening and has not yet been pollinated. The one on the right – I really have seen them this size in stores – is ridiculous. It would also be ridiculous if it were a crookneck or Cousa. The potential for flavor is there, but flavor itself is not.
2. You will not easily tire of zucchini if it’s Romanesco, aka Costata Romanesco, a uniquely firm and nutty variety. This one does taste good when it’s quite small and, even more astonishing, the not-seedy part will still be worth eating when the thing’s the size of your forearm.
The one in the middle looks suspiciously robust, and as a general rule it’s wise to avoid any summer squash (or eggplant) so mature it has matte rather than shiny skin. But Romanesco, sold by Johnny’s and by Renee’s, among others, is the exception.
Plus it’s deeply ribbed ( usually) so the slices have beautifully scalloped edges. It’s not yet common at farmstands and greenmarkets, but it’s showing up more and more often as growers and customers alike discover its virtues.
This has nothing to do with tacos. It’s named for the famous Spanish dish of potatoes, eggs and olive oil; and although it’s made somewhat similarly the main reason I’m calling it a tortilla is that I was scared if I called it a squash cake you’d expect it to be sweet.
It’s not. It’s essence of toothsome squash, with a soft pale green or gold-flecked center and deeply olive oil browned crust, equally good hot and cold, as an appetizer, side dish or main course. And making it is simplicity itself, assuming you have a processor with a shredding attachment and that you allow enough time (at least an hour) for the squash to sit there and drain.
For a 9 or 10 inch tortilla: 4 main dish, 6 side dish or 8 tapa servings :
3 – 4 lbs. summer squash: zucchini, Middle-East , crookneck or pattypan in any combination. Use the larger amount if squash are large; they shrink more in preparation.
1 medium onion
2 heaping tablespoons of salt (fear not, it comes back out)
3 extra large eggs or 4 smaller ones
about ¼ cup of flour
1. If the squash is large, cut it in quarters and slice out the seedy soft center material. Otherwise just make it small enough to go through the feed tube. Shred about half of it, then shred the onion, then shred the rest. Put all the shredded material in a large bowl.
Old ironstone washbowls are ideal for mixing large quantities. They’re a much better shape than most mixing bowls, which are too narrow and deep.
2. Add the salt and mix thoroughly – your hands are the best tool for this. Put the squash in a colander over the sink or or a bowl, fit a non-reactive bowl or pan on top and weight it with something like a 5 pound sack of flour. Leave it for an hour or so, during which vast quantities of liquid will come out, reducing the squash volume by 1/3 to ½, depending.
3. Rinse the drained squash with cold running water, press out excess liquid with your palm, then repeat the weighted drain routine for 5 or 10 minutes. If you’re cooking this for someone you want to impress with your world-class cooking skills, turn the shreds into a towel and squeeze out even more moisture. Otherwise don’t bother.
4. Beat the eggs just until loosened in a large bowl, then stir in the squash. Add enough flour to turn the mixture into something the texture of cake batter, very soft and loose but with no free liquid. Pause between additions to let the flour swell, the less you use the better but if you don’t use enough the bottom crust won’t be crisp.
5. Put a heavy 9 or 10 inch skillet over medium heat and add a generous layer of olive oil. How generous is up to you but there has to be more than a slick and this would actually be good deep fried, so it’s hard to use too much.
6. When the oil just starts to smoke, turn in the squash and smooth the top. Cook until the edges start to draw in and if you lift an edge with a spatula you can see things are pretty brown at the bottom. This should take about 10 minutes.
7. Turn on the broiler, put the skillet 3 (or so ) inches under it and broil until the cake top is flecked with brown, about 5 minutes more.
8. Loosen the cake with a wide spatula. Put a large plate over the pan and – holding both firmly with protected hands – flip the tortilla out. That’s it. You could garnish it with sprigs of basil or bouquets of cherry tomatoes or whatever. Or not.
Looking Ahead: There aren’t many vegetables worth freezing plain as ingredients for later use; but if you get a good buy on good summer squash or have a bumper crop, preparing it through step 3 and then freezing it sets you up for making the tortilla (or individual squash pancakes) with lightening speed, even in the dead of winter. Double bag the shreds so the onion aroma doesn’t spread itself around and expect to drain out even more liquid after the mixture thaws.