Sunday, June 28, 2009

rushing the seasons

i am very programmed, when
it comes to tomato buying,
to wait.
until the peak of august,
the beginning of september,
when tomatoes are at their
most flavorful,
most beautiful.
sure, i pick up pints of
grape tomatoes
year round, but for gorgeous
heirlooms? i stick to summer's end.

recently, while running
quickly to pick up a few things for
dinner, i stopped short at the crate,
heirloom tomatoes - first crop.
and they were not at all expensive.
it seemed a little unreal.
i walked by three times, before
deciding to break my rule.
once i started
picking them up
examining the globes
choosing the prettiest,
i realized something:
i was alone.

no one was pushing me
out of the way, or
even gently nudging me
to the side.
no one was fighting me
for the perfectly round
purple fruit i had just found
in the back.
in fact, no one even seemed
to be glancing in their
to me, this said one of two
either i was a fool for buying
these in june
no one else cared/understood/
paid any attention
to what they were seeing.

deep down, i was going with (A),
but i really wanted to
believe in (B).
so, i picked my favorite five,
took them home for a
photo session and then
stared at them for a week,
deciding how they would
be best utilized.
by the time i decided
on a panzanella salad,
it was a sunday and i wanted
it with dinner that night.
isn't that the problem with bread
salads? they were created as a
way to use up extra bread, yet
often they require actually
buying the bread in the first place.
so, i went out and bought a loaf.
when i came home, i cubed half
of it and spread the bread out on
a sheet pan, letting them dry out
or become stale on their own
in a low temp oven.
after looking at several recipes,
i decided to wing it
(i know.
this can either turn
your dish into
the most delicious, ever,
or be a
i set to work cubing the
tomatoes, almost sad
to cut through them.

ultimately, i made the decision
to seed the pieces.
this is something i never
would have done before
culinary school.
to me, it was always a waste
of time,
a bigger mess,
an obvious disposal of good tomato.
but, in school we experimented,
with the seeds and without.
it's true that the ones with seeds
had less flavor
were watery
didn't pop.
so now, a lot of the time, i take
out the seeds.
but what i did next, surprised even
me. i made the decision to
seed all the tomatoes into one
bowl, rather than into the garbage.
once seeded, i poured them into
a fine-mesh strainer over the
toasted bread and pressed all
the juices out. i had planned to use
water to moisten the cubes,
but at the last minute i thought,
this is how to maximize the flavor.

this was pretty much enough
to wet the bread,
but i tossed
a few sprinkles
of water in, just in case.
the rest was easy.
i stirred together a vinaigrette
of olive oil
red wine vinegar
lemon juice
red pepper flakes
slivered onion.
after i tossed together the
and freshly torn basil,
i let the salad sit for about
3o minutes to meld.
the salad tasted like summer
and a little bit like cheating.
besides buying
bread the day i was planning to
make the panzanella,
i bought heirloom tomatoes in
june. june! but that night,
when we sat down,
you could have told me it
was august. and i may
have believed you.
heirloom tomato panzanella salad
i used a loaf of paisano, a rustic bread. it was just slightly crusty on the outside, but when i squeezed, it had a little give. you can substitute for whatever bread you enjoy or would like to use up. also, i made the decision to keep the crusts on - faster, more rustic, prettier - but, feel free to trim them if you think they will bother you. if the bread is fresh, simply cube it and spread out on a baking sheet. toast 3-7 minutes at 225˚f, or until the pieces feel "stale." oh, and with the basil leaves, don't bother to count out 30 (unless you want to). instead, just tear them up and toss them in until it seems like the right amount.

1/2 loaf paisano (about 1 pound), cubed into 1" pieces
5 heirloom tomatoes of varying shapes, sizes and colors
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 lemon, juiced
1/2 small sweet onion, very thinly sliced and chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
kosher salt
cracked black pepper
3 tablespoons olive oil
30 fresh basil leaves, torn

place bread in medium bowl.

on cutting board, core tomatoes. cube tomatoes; then over bowl, remove seeds. once all tomatoes are seeded, place fine mesh strainer over bowl of bread cubes. pour in seeds, pressing to extract all juices; discard seeds. toss bread cubes with tomato juices to moisten. if they don't feel quite moist enough, run your hands under running water and flick bread a few times with water, tossing after a few flicks. you want the bread to be moist enough to absorb the dressing, but not soggy.

in bowl, whisk together red wine vingear, lemon juice, oregano, red pepper flakes, onion, garlic, salt and pepper. slowly drizzle in oil, whisking constantly. taste the vinaigrette - if there's anything you're not crazy about, change it or fix it now.

place the tomatoes in bowl with bread; drizzle with vinaigrette. toss mixture together until completely coated. add basil; toss to combine. season with salt and pepper, if desired. cover; let sit at room temperature 20-30 minutes.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

farmer's market find: garlic scapes

last weekend,
we woke up on sunday morning
crossing our fingers that
it wasn't raining.
it was.
yet, we must have mustered up
all of our determination
because within 10 minutes,
it was only drizzling,
and 10 minutes after that,
it had stopped.

too worried to tempt fate,
we quickly tossed on
grabbed our reusable bags
and hopped in the car.
we had spent all week
talking about the newly
and we were going, come...
well, come wet weather or not.

we spent the first five minutes
looking, scoping everything out,
and the next 15 shopping for
freshly shelled peas
icicle radishes
teeny baby carrots
and baby red onions.
we turned to leave, nearly missing
a new crate at the table
we had visited first.
i was so excited to see garlic scapes.
i've heard about them,
know that they're the stalks that grow
from the garlic plant itself and
are certainly garlicky, but a mild
cousin of its cloves.
but i had never before tried them and
didn't really know what to do with them.
regardless, i grabbed a large handful.

once home, i ran to my
the internet,
learning that the most common
use was pesto. i didn't really want
to use them that way -
i had just made a pesto
two weeks before
and i have issues,
always feeling like i need
to step outside the box.
but, after a little while,
i decided not to fight
it and just make a batch myself.
every time i thought about
the pesto, however,
i worried that
the garlic would be too strong,
leading me to the decision to
cut the scapes into 1-inch(ish) lengths
and quickly saute the pieces first.

this taught me two things:
sauteed scapes are amazing,
and could pass for garlicky asparagus.
the second, is that cooking significantly
minimizes the garlic level.
so much so,
that when i tossed them
into the food processor with
toasted almonds
and grated parm,
i also added two raw scapes
to give the mixture more punch.
and, yes, i tend not to use nearly
enough olive oil in my pestos,
but still, i thought the blend
was lacking flavor.
so i tossed in more parm,
some lemon juice,
another scape
and finally, relentingly,
i didn't want to use the basil.
this was supposed to be
a garlic scape pesto.
i wanted the pesto to maintain
the beautiful peridot green
it was busy boasting,
not turn a deep emerald.
but after a 1/4 cup,
and another
and another,
it was clear that i had
made the right decision.
the basil simply heightened
the other ingredients,
while adding an herbal touch
that made a big difference,

that first night, i tossed
a big spoonful with
adorable mini gnocchi,
more toasted almonds and a
significant splash of the pasta's
cooking water.
fast and delicious - and the hot
water more than made up for
not using a huge amount of olive
oil (by pesto's standards).

a couple nights later,
i dolloped the leftovers over
pizza dough along with
red pepper flakes
finely chopped preserved meyer lemon
and a couple whole
raw garlic scapes.
both ways, very good.
both ways, very fresh.

if i stumble across another crate
at a future farmer's market,
i will buy them.
but because they
were so remarkable both
those would probably be my go to dishes.
or maybe, this, which i'm regretting
i didn't see earlier (and wouldn't have
been able to tell you about if i had actually
posted this entry according to my planned
timetable, yesterday). turn anything
into a hummus-like dip,
and i'm curious.
add these curly cue stalks,
and i'm sold.
garlic scape pesto
this pesto is absolutely saucier when first made - it firms up significantly after a stay in the fridge. if you want a mixture with more olive oil, drizzle in extra, stopping when the blended veggies no longer absorb the oil.

15 garlic scapes, divided
3/4 cup fresh basil
1/3 cup almonds, toasted
1/2 cup grated parm
1/2 large juicy lemon, juiced
kosher salt
cracked black pepper
1/3 cup olive oil

cut 12 scapes into 1" lengths. over medium-high heat, warm large skillet coated with cooking spray or olive oil. when hot, add garlic scapes and cook 1 to 2 minutes, or until crisp tender (try one - the garlic level should not overwhelm you). let cool. meanwhile, cut remaining scapes into 1" lengths (or, cut all at one time and separate the 12 from the 3 immediately).

in bowl of food processor, combine cooked and uncooked garlic scapes, basil, toasted almonds and grated parm. pulse several times or until finely chopped and combined. add lemon juice; season with salt and pepper to taste. pulse twice. while motor is running, slowly drizzle in olive oil until emulsified, adding more if necessary or desired. use immediately or cover and refrigerate. you can also freeze pesto.

Monday, June 22, 2009

it's tempting to resent the rain. i'm trying to embrace it. sort of.

as much as we should cook
for the seasons -
buy tomatoes in august,
oranges in january,
asparagus in april -
it's often so much more
tempting to cook for
the weather.

because you can toss
peas with favas and artichokes
as much as you want -
and you may even
like it -
but it won't help anyone
forget that it's been
raining in new jersey
for three weeks, easy.
it won't make you pass over
the details, like
everyday, you come home with
your shoes looking a little
worse for the wear and
the hem of your pants,
wet again.
it will be hard to recognize
that even though it seems
like salad season,
you really just want
a bowl of soup.

or this polenta,
which i was recently reminded of.
the first time i made this,
years ago, it was hot outside
(august, hot) and by the time
i had finished stirring the pot
over a high flame and a
piping hot oven, the last
thing i wanted to do was
actually eat a slice.
so since, i have saved it for
and, now, apparently,
gloomy junes.

vegetarian, very fast and easy,
the only thing required is a little
or more appropriately,
proper mise en place -
very important because
almost all of your time will
be spent, stirring the polenta
nonstop, waiting for it to come to
a boil, and after,
making sure it doesn't scorch on
the bottom.

then once this quick cooking
polenta is thick, creamy and smooth,
you quickly stir in
blue cheese
salt and pepper,
before spreading it evenly into
a skillet or deep pan.

once everything is level,
take the opportunity
to slow down, because the polenta
isn't going anywhere.
this is when you can add toppings,
in an orderly fashion,
or haphazardly, depending on
which style suits you best.
more blue.
slide the skillet into
the oven and then you have
18 minutes
to make a salad.
polenta as a meal, is
a wonderful, delicious
idea, but i always feel
like we need some greens
to balance out the wedge
on the plate.

when the table's set,
the salads are out
and everything smells
so good, you can
just picture the cheese
browning and bubbling
around the edges,
pull it from the oven,
and then - and i'll warn
you, this is the hardest part -
this waiting step,
in addition to upping the original
cooking time by two minutes,
took me sadly too long
to figure out, but thank goodness
i finally did. now, i can pass
this recipe onto you without
an asterick, that would let
you know that this dish
tastes amazing, but will not
cut into a proper wedge
warm and will look
an absolute mess on
the plate.

the polenta comes out
very hot and the last thing
it wants to do is conform
into whatever cut shape
you desire. no, it is very
content to be scooped
out, looking more like
mush, or maybe to be polite
and fair to our main meal,
soft polenta. all things great,
this polenta shouldn't be rushed.
give the skillet a few extra
minutes in the oven.
once on the table,
let it hang out, get used to
its surroundings while
you enjoy your salad.
and only then.
you can slice past the
juicy tomatoes and
fragrant basil,
though the two cheeses -
one for melting and one
for flavor -
into the creamy, but firm,
and it will be ready to
comply and come much
closer to resembling
the triangular wedge
you intended.

once on the plate,
cozy up to it. settle
in. pretend it's winter
and not a march day in
june. remember that yes,
it's raining, yes it's gross outside
and yes, it's unbelievably
annoying. but if it wasn't,
you'd probably be eating
something else.
baked blue cheese polenta with tomatoes and basil
adapted from bon appetit magazine
a big plus for this recipe is that once you've stirred the cornmeal into a creamy base and added the ingredients, you can taste the mixture (swiftly) and decide what else it needs. it was this grace period that made me decide to up the basil and add both garlic and blue cheese to the polenta - not just sprinkle it on top. i also use grape tomatoes instead of cherry, toss in more garlic and extra grated mozzarella. i use whatever blue i happen to have, but if you're in the store shopping, look for one that melts well, like buttermilk, point reyes or danish. feel free to increase or decrease the amounts, depending on what you love.

also, i usually prepare everything - halve the tomatoes, chop the garlic, grate and crumble the cheeses - ahead of time. except for the basil, because i don't want it to brown. so instead, i pluck 20 to 30 leaves, lay them into two piles and once the polenta is done, very quickly, roll them into a cigar and slice thinly.

4 cups water
1 1/3 cups cornmeal
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 cloves garlic, peeled, chopped and divided
30 large basil leaves, or more
6 ounces blue cheese, crumbled and divided
1 pint grape tomatoes, halved
1 1/4 cups grated part-skim mozzarella cheese

heat oven to 450˚f. coat 12" skillet with a heatproof handle with cooking spray; set aside. (if your skillet's handle is not heatproof, or you're not sure, just wrap it twice with aluminum foil - like i do - to ensure that nothing but the cheese melts in the oven. warning: regardless of if it's wrapped or not, you'll still need an oven mitt to remove the pan from the oven.)

in large saucepot, combine water, cornmeal and salt. bring to a boil over medium-high heat, whisking constantly. reduce heat to medium-low and cook 3 minutes more, or until polenta becomes very thick and pulls away from the pan, whisking constantly. remove from heat; whisk in olive oil and half chopped garlic. quickly roll basil into cigar shape and thinly slice; sprinkle half on top of polenta. add 2 ounces blue cheese; whisk to combine. season with kosher salt and black pepper, to taste.

transfer polenta to prepared skillet, patting evenly. sprinkle with remaining garlic and grape tomatoes; press tomatoes slightly into polenta. sprinkle with mozzarella cheese, remaining blue cheese and remaining basil, slicing more basil, if necessary.

bake 18 minutes, or until cheese is browned around the edges and bubbling. remove from oven and let sit 10 to 15 minutes. cut into wedges to serve.