Freshly picked sweet corn, juicy tomatoes of varying lineages, bunches of leafy greens, slender pods of okra, fragrant herbs. Those are just some of the end-of-summer temptations at my local farmers’ market this time of the year. Often they serve as inspiration for the side dishes I prepare at home.
One recent creation, prepared with such purchases, was a delicious corn, tomato, and chard gratin. I sautéed corn kernels with leeks and julienned chard, then combined them with a savory custard of Half-and-Half, eggs, and grated white cheddar. This mixture was poured into a casserole pan, then topped with sliced tomatoes and another sprinkle of cheese. When baked the gratin was a lovely contrast of flavors with the sweetness of the corn and tomatoes countering the hint of slightly bitter chard. Continue reading
Before summer ended, my husband and I decided to host a last minute-party for our friends. We agreed that champagne (my favorite drink any time of the year) and rosé (his default wine of the season) would anchor the gathering along with appetizers made with the season’s fresh fruits and vegetables. While my spouse tended to the libations, I concentrated on the food.
The glorious produce and herbs that abound this time of year provided me with inspiration. Homemade aïoli served with haricots verts, heirloom cherry tomatoes, and sliced fennel was a colorful creation. An avocado pâté garnished with tomato salsa and chips, and a tray of cheeses and fresh figs were set out as well. Chicken wings seasoned with lime juice, apricot jam, and cilantro, plus mini-lobster rolls, and slices of cantaloupe marinated in a mint and Pernod syrup completed the offerings.
The latter was one of the most popular and definitely one of the easiest dishes. After the Continue reading
Sadly, this year’s peach crops in Massachusetts were lost because of bad weather, so I’ve purchased ones that have arrived in our local markets from other parts of the country.
I’ve used them in smoothies or as garnishes for grilled meats, and added slices to my morning cereal bowl. But, my favorite creation has been to feature them in a glorious French tart.
Prepared with an extra-rich pastry dough (the recipe for which was shared by talented baker and caterer, Barb Morse), the tart shell is pre-baked and then filled with sliced peaches coated in a thickened peach puree mixture scented subtly with cardamom.
Peach Tart ready to go in the oven in its pre-baked pastry shell.
Once baked, it is best to let the tart stand a while at room temperature so that the juices have a chance to cool and thicken. Then you can slice this confection easily and gild the lily by garnishing each serving with a dollop of crème fraîche and a drizzle of rosé syrup. The latter is made by simply reducing leftover rosé (plentiful around our house in the summer!) with sugar. Nothing says summer like a peach dessert! Continue reading
As soon as we arrived home last week, after a long stay in France, I started stocking our empty fridge and cupboards. Several trips to local supermarkets took care of the basics, but it was at our weekly farmers’ market that I found gorgeous summer vegetables, freshly baked loaves of bread, and locally crafted yogurt.
Honest-to-goodness tomatoes, deep red, juicy, and packed with flavor, were the first thing that caught my eye. They would be perfect to use for a summer tomato and chickpea soup—a dish I had created for my new book, Soup Nights.
The tomatoes need only to be chopped and seeded, then simmered slowly with chickpeas in a cumin-scented broth. Lemon, yogurt, and mint all contribute cooling accents to this soup. I used chicken broth for my version, but vegetarians can sub the quick-and-easy vegetable stock recipe that is also included. Continue reading
The peaches this year in New England have been exceptional! I can’t remember a recent summer when this fruit has been more bountiful or had such juicy, flavorful flesh. Farmers’ markets, roadside stands, and grocery stores in our small town have all proudly displayed bins—of both yellow and white—ripe enough for eating on the spot. As a result, I have been bringing home bagfuls of the fuzzy orbs and using them in various ways.
One of my favorite creations has been a recipe for individual peach clafoutis (pronounced CLA FU TEA), a specialty of the Limousin, an area in south central France. It is one of the simplest yet most delicious French desserts a home cook can prepare. Traditionally, it is made with cherries that are covered with a rich pancake-style batter, then baked. My version, however, calls for fresh sliced peaches scented with hints of cardamom, ginger, and cinnamon. When baked the batter rises just slightly above the sides of the pan and then falls like a soufflé as it rests. Continue reading
Earlier this month on a picture-perfect summer evening, my husband and I and a good friend ate outside on the terrace of Amherst’s Lord Jeffrey Inn. Our group of three looked at the interesting menu, and surprisingly all ordered the corn risotto as our main course. (If you knew what a carnivore my spouse, Ron, is, you’d be as stunned as I that he by-passed the handsome steak offering for this vegetable main course.). The waitress assured us that we wouldn’t be disappointed, and she was right.
The chef had made a delicious risotto by cooking arborio rice (the classic short, starchy grain used for this Northern Italian specialty) in simmering stock along with fresh corn kernels. As garnishes he had topped each serving with a spoonful of pickled piquillo peppers and some sautéed hen mushrooms. One bite and we were all smitten.
At home, I couldn’t get the dish out of my mind, and set out to create my own version. I sautéed chopped shallots in butter, along with corn and rice. Then for the next 20 minutes I slowly added ladlefuls of simmering broth to the pot, stirring constantly until each addition was absorbed before ladling in more. Continue reading
For the past few months, I’ve spent hours in the kitchen with my talented assistants working on a new soup book. Not only have we tested countless brodos, bisques, gazpachos, and potages, we’ve been creating sandwiches to serve alongside them.
One special creation—a tuna salad combo prepared with hummus, kalamatas, and cucumbers—got high marks from the book’s testers. For the dressing, I replaced much of the mayonnaise in the usual versions with hummus, and seasoned the salad with lemon, cumin, and a touch of mint. Other additions included the classic duo of chopped onions and celery.
This new tuna mixture is delicious on toasted multi-grain slices, but you could serve it just Continue reading
I can’t remember a year when the tomato crops have been better. Heirlooms in myriad varieties, red, yellow and orange cherry and grape tomatoes, as well as field tomatoes (or what I call just plain old summer tomatoes) are having a heyday in western New England this summer. They started appearing in August and are still going strong—so strong that I have been using them creatively week after week in recipes like the simple BLT Soup featured here.
After making countless BLT sandwiches, I decided to try the popular trio in a soup and loved the results. Nothing could have been easier. After frying a few bacon slices until crisp, I used a small amount of the drippings to sauté chopped onion, garlic, and fresh tomatoes, and then simmered this mélange in chicken stock and fresh orange juice. Seasonings of basil and cayenne pepper rounded out the flavors. When done, the soup was pureed to a crimson smoothness.
Okra at the Amherst Farmers’ Market
If you’re one of those who cringe when you hear the word “okra,” then you should have a look at Virginia Willis’ Okra. Published this spring just in time for cooks to take advantage of this summer crop, this slim volume is filled with recipes that will convince “okra doubters” that when cooked properly, okra is not “slimy or gummy” but rather a delicious vegetable.
In Okra, the author addresses the fact that people either love or hate okra. “It’s a contentious vegetable,” she proclaims. But to all those who think they don’t like this versatile ingredient, she says, “They just haven’t met the right okra!” To make her point she follows up with a sampling of recipes with both Southern and international accents.
Like Virginia, I grew up in the South in Tennessee, right next to her native Georgia, and have fond memories of delicious okra dishes that my mother prepared during warm weather months. Sliced okra, coated in cornmeal, then fried in bacon drippings until crisp and golden, was a favorite as was shrimp and okra gumbo served over rice.
Anxious to cook from this book, I’ve prepared Oven-Fried Okra several times—it’s easy Continue reading
My son, Mike, is a talented cook, and during our family’s summer vacation, he and I teamed up to prepare the evening meals. Often we went to the market, chose what looked good, and decided how we’d use if after returning home. That was certainly the case with a colorful tomato and onion confit we whipped up one night.
A cache of plump, ripe summer tomatoes, a mound of garlic heads, and a bag of onions, were the inspiration for a simple but vibrant tomato and onion garnish. We chopped the onions into large pieces, sautéed them until golden, and then added tomatoes and a hefty accent of pressed garlic. Cumin, turmeric, and cayenne pepper added heat and color to our mélange. We served this quick confit with couscous and grilled Moroccan merguez sausages (easily found in France where we were staying). Back home I substituted lamb chops marinated with the same spices used in the confit with equally delicious results. Continue reading