Posts filed under ‘Purely Vegetables’
As the growing season winds down, I’m trying my best to savor some of the flavors of summer that I’ll soon be missing when the cold weather comes. Tomatoes are always quintessential to summer dining. Unfortunately it was a bad year around here for locally grown tomatoes with that nasty blight wiping them out, including those in my vegetable garden. My salvation has been the two potted tomatoes on my deck, which have been producing a bumper crop despite being confined to a container. With compost mixed into the potting soil and a weekly soaking with an organic solution of compost tea, they have been real troopers. I’m growing ‘Super Bush’ from Renee’s Garden Seeds because this variety has been bred to handle containers with gusto. While they can’t begin to compare to a juicy flavorful heirloom tomato, these Super Bush have surprised me with their longevity and the truly outstanding sauce they make.
So to celebrate this bumper crop of a summery favorite, I decided to make another local seasonal favorite – tomato pie. Now, I realize when some of you read “tomato pie” you’re expecting something like this that Elise made. As delicious as her recipe looks, tomato pie can only be one thing in my house: a version of pizza topped simply with fresh homemade tomato sauce. Around Philadelphia, this Sicilian-inspired pizza pie is a staple in any respectable pizzeria or Italian bakery. It’s always prepared in a rectangular shape and usually served cold or at room temperature with a light dusting of grated parmesan just before it’s boxed up or dished out.
Since there are no gooey cheeses or droves of toppings, the seasoning of the sauce is crucial to a good tomato pie. I put heaps of basil and oregano in mine, along with plenty of garlic. I also like to use a red onion instead of yellow because it tempers the acidity of the tomatoes, adding greater complexity to the flavors. And finally, my secret ingredient is a carrot! By adding a chopped up carrot to the sauce as it simmers, a hint of sweetness comes into its undertones that is a perfect complement to the yeasty sweetness of the crunchy crust.
As with any pizza, working with the dough can be intimidating for anyone just getting started with homemade tomato pie. I try to take a very relaxed and zen approach to it. I never aim for perfection when rolling it and shaping it, though getting it as thin as possible is always the goal. Over many years of failures and successes, I’ve learned that the real trick to a good crust is the oven. You don’t need a fancy wood-fired oven (though if you have one can I be your new best friend?), but you do need a hot regular old oven. Make sure you pre-heat your oven at its hottest possible temperature and also pre-heat your pan or stone at the same time. When the dough hits that hot surface in that hot chamber, it has no choice but to puff up and get airy and crisp. Just be sure to watch your pizza/pie closely as it will go from “perfect golden and crunchy” to “charred inedible slab” in just a few minutes.
Oh, and when cutting a tomato pie, you must make square slices. It’s the rule. Don’t know why. It just is. While my personal preference is to snack on cold slices in the afternoon, it’s fun to serve tomato pie at parties or for dinner with other types of pizza. One of my Italian-American friends loves to grill slices at his big summer picnic, and it’s very tasty with just the bottom of the crust warmed up and a little bit charred. Mmmmmmm.
Beets, much like brussel sprouts, have suffered at the hands and up-turned noses of small children everywhere. And, just like brussel sprouts, the ruby and orange roots have experienced a bit of a renaissance in those of us adults who have finally grown up enough to realize that sometimes if you just try something, you’ll actually like it. I credit the dislodging of beets from the “ick” category to the beautiful and fresh varieties that have poured into farmer markets around the country. Even people who don’t have any interest in buying beets from our market table are prone – even compelled – to pick up a bunch of these colorful beauties to appreciate visually, if not in actual taste.
I have to confess that I wasn’t a huge beet fan myself when I was younger. I did, however, love the pickled beets my mom made every year to line our root cellar shelves. I’ll be posting a recipe for those shortly, by the way. I didn’t discover the rustic sweet delight of roasted beets until much later in life (okay, so only a few years ago, in truth). Now I can’t imagine a dinner I’d rather have more than one that centers around roasted beets.
Today’s recipe for Gingered Millet with Roasted Beets is a show-stopper, both in taste and presentation. The ginger is the perfect spicy heat pairing for the natural sugars of the beets. The millet is hearty and healthy, making an entire meal out of this one dish. Hot or cold, this is a dish that does double duty as a dinner entree or a picnic lunch next to a vibrant salad of fresh greens dressed in simple oil and vinegar.
If you don’t have these exact ingredients on hand, don’t fret. Save for the beets and ginger, you can achieve pretty much the same flavors and textures with substitutions such as quinoa, spelt, or orzo for the grain; white or yellow onions instead of red; grape tomatoes instead of sungolds; tarragon instead of cilantro; and so forth. Experiment and make this recipe your own using whatever is coming out of your garden. Just please do come back and tell us all about your adaptations, especially if any of them win over the wee ones in the crowd!
Oh non, je suis désolé, mes chéris! This post was meant to go up automatically while I was traveling this past week to Puerto Rico. But apparently there was some sort of “technical difficulty” and here it is, several days late and perhaps nearing the end of that most wonderful time of spring: asparagus season! I hope that you are still able to get plenty of these delectable green shoots where you are. And of course there will be some photos shortly of my brief visit to sunny San Juan that will remind us all that summer is just around the corner.
Ah, asparagus season! It’s here in full force and I snapped up several bunches of these delicious green spears at last week’s Headhouse Market where the tables were already beginning to fill out with all manner of greens, herbs, asparagus, rhubarb, fennel, and even some apples that had been stored through the winter in a cool barn cellar. And of course, my favorite bakery and cheese vendors were back once more, and I made sure to show my appreciation by buying much more than I should have since I won’t be home much this week (I’m traveling south to Puerto Rico for a professional development opportunity).
But back to the asparagus, my favorite of all spring time ephemeral foods. I grew up with plenty of asparagus at the ready in both my backyard and the roadside bed across from my grandmother’s house. I never was one of those kids that pinched my nose and said “pee-yew!” when mom brought over the asparagus platter to the dinner table. I loved it from the start and I loved picking it – going out each morning to see if there were new shoots the right size for the taking. Asparagus can grow very quickly this time of year, literally overnight.
I never realized what a treat I had on my hands back then. Fresh picked asparagus is leaps and bounds better than anything you’ll ever get in the store. Even the stuff that’s at the farmers market, if it’s been picked a few days in advance, is already starting to toughen up and loose its sugars. I usually ask the farmer when it was picked before buying and then I try to make sure I use up the asparagus within a day or two to get maximum flavor. As such, I made it a point to put together this Roasted Asparagus Risotto before leaving town.
Pizza nirvana, in my opinion, is hard to come by, but when you do, it’s just the best darn food you can possibly imagine. I think I was spoiled by my trip to Italy when I was 20. In the autumn air, I wander the streets of Florence with no particular agenda other than to savor every moment. In the beautiful old-world charm of this Italian favorite, I had my first slice of the mother land’s pizza.
First off, it was huge! Really huge! The diameter of a car tire, or so my mind’s eye remembers. I know for sure that I was shocked – absolutely dumbstruck – that this was the size of pizza every individual in the little restaurant was getting. No going “halvesy”. You ate your pizza like a big hungry man. And devour it without a shard of proper ladylike manners I did!
The crust was so thin and crisp. The sauce perfectly balanced with garlic and basil. The bubbly mozzarella was no doubt fresh as it could be. Because the crust was so thin and the toppings so minimalist (in the best sense of the word), when I finished and pushed back my chair, I felt “just right” – not too full but most definitely completely satiated. Shortly after that I bought my first original piece of artwork from a painter along the banks of the Arno River and felt immensely happy with my travel adventure.
Once back in the States, I did my best to replicate that experience, trying several pizza recipes and kneading the dough under the Florence watercolor I’d hung in my kitchen as inspiration. I’m embarrassed to admit, dear readers, that I was a really bad pizza maker. The texture of the dough eluded me and always came out, well, soggy. I basically gave up on homemade pizza for several years until Deb, at Smitten Kitchen, nudged me out of my misgivings with her many tempting pizza posts and a very simple dough recipe.
As it turns out, the trick to entering pizza nirvana, begins with a touch of honey and dough rolled so thin you can practically see through it. Once you’ve got that, you can’t go wrong. But, it turns out, you can improve upon perfection. Now, I’m not going to be so bold as to say this recipe for Roasted Root & Ricotta Pizza is better than that being made by little eateries in Florence. But… However… You see… On the other hand….
It’s really really really good. Not a “minimalist” pizza by any means, this crispy crust gets loaded with aromatic and smoky roasted potatoes, rutabaga, onion, garlic, and even carrots, not to mention creamy ricotta and melty mozzarella. Mama mia, am I hungry all of a sudden!
What an interesting time of the year it is. There’s so much diversity in the weather – shorts one day, winter coat the next, and goulashes and an umbrella the day after. I’ve been enjoying this little adventure in atmospheric pressure, though I hope the snow is gone for good now that my tulips and alliums are pushing up through the aromatic spring earth.
One thing that isn’t full of diversity right now is my diet. All I’ve got left to play with in the kitchen are the same four root vegetables: rutabaga, carrots, potatoes and onions. Luckily, I happen to really like these long-lasting staples of the winter pantry. But even I get a little bored sometimes and wish for a new twist on the old favorites.
Searching around on one of my go-to resources for new recipe ideas, All Recipes, I saw this fun take on roasted vegetables, Zesty Roasted Rutabaga and Carrots. The lemony zing is deliciously sublime, and the overall dish is quite beautiful with its bright colors and flecks of dill. It makes a great side dish for a hearty dinner or an easy take-along for lunch since it’s as lovely at room temperature as it is warm.
If you or someone at your table is new to rutabaga, this is a great preparation to introduce this vitamin-packed root. The orange flesh speaks to the high levels of carotene (vitamin C) that come with every delicious bite. The rutabaga I used for this dish was in my crisper drawer since October and it was as fresh as the day it was picked. Who ever said beauty fades?
Here we are once again, standing on the doorstep of a brand-spankin’ new year. Every January there’s a sense of resolve in the air around my house. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I make resolutions. I don’t have a mind that operates in those clearly defined terms. But I do assess my current situation in life and think about where I’d like to see myself heading over the next 365 days.
I’ve never been a slender woman, although since high school I have been a fitness fanatic with a nicely toned body. Unfortunately, the chaos of changing careers, moving into our first house, taking on freelance assignments to supplement the drop in pay by going back to school, and giving up my daily bike commute, my hips have been sadly spreading over the past year. So, for the first time in years, I find myself starting this particular new year with the same misgiving about weight that so many do.
To that end, I’m on the hunt for recipes with fresh flavors but fewer calories and lower in saturated fat. This recipe for Kohlrabi and Carrot Salad is a bright colorful way to start off and tasty enough to help me keep my resolve. It’s a quick lunch, crunchy enough to make you feel full, or it’s a nice little starter to curb your appetite at the start of dinner. Kohlrabi in particular seems to me to be a great vegetable for satisfying some of the more common cravings out there: it’s got the crunch of a pretzel but the slight sweetness of an apple. Sprinkle it with a little salt and it’s surprisingly satisfying.
Today is a special day for me. It was four years ago that D and I went on our first date. And what a first date it was. It started with a long stroll through the Philadelphia Museum of Art where we sat by the monastery courtyard fountain and he took my hand for the first time. Then we had a late lunch at More Than Just Ice Cream on Pine Street. He had the guacamole; I had the grilled cheese with tomatoes; and we both agreed that water is the only drink we ever order out. We shared an enormous slice of the house special: apple pie al la mode.
And because we were having so much fun already during that first encounter, we decided to catch a movie too. Does anyone remember that indie film Closer, the one with Damien Rice’s haunting melodies? While it was an interesting flick with a great soundtrack, it was most definitely NOT first date material, seeing as how it’s all about deception among couples. But somehow we made it through that and went on to have many more dates and here, 1460 days later, we’re celebrating another anniversary.
Sadly, we didn’t get to spend most of our special day together as he had a class to attend. But I decided to make something nice for a light bite when he got home. A recipe I spied in Eat Feed Autumn Winter (still equally in love with this book too) for Honey-Ginger Carrot Parsnip Latkes seemed like just the ticket. D was raised in a Jewish household and still has a soft spot for many of the traditional dishes he ate as a kid.