Labor Day Sauce Fest

  • September 4, 2011 9:20 pm

I’ve been trying to post recipes most weekends, but have been derailed lately. The weekend before hurricane Irene I was down on the Jersey shore with extended family. We had a blast smoking whole fish–even using pine branches from the yard–and I was eager to write up the recipe. Instead I evacuated the barrier island we were on, leaving the smoker behind.

This week’s recipe was almost derailed by Irene, too. My mother’s birthday falls every year on/around Labor Day weekend and we tend to spend it happily laboring over sauces that will sustain us through the winter–batches of pesto and jars of several types of tomato sauce. It’s a good (tipsy) time in her kitchen. The process helps ease the pain of summer ending, and I think of the silliness all fall/winter/spring long when we defrost the glass jars of sauce for meals.

But this year it was really hard to find a box of plum tomatoes; curiously the farm stands we normally rely on didn’t have any. The day before we wanted to make sauce I started to hear stories–mainly from my CSA farmer–that the FDA was saying no produce that had been under floodwaters was allowed to be sold. Irene hit the farmland in and around the Hudson Valley–where my mom has a house–hard. My CSA farmer had planned to harvest what she still could once the waters receded. But now that was no longer possible.

Knowing that Irene had ended the season for my CSA farmer of 11 years, I headed to the Saturday farmers’ market anxious–who would I see? Who would I not see? Would people be in similarly dire straights or did some survive intact? I was greeted with a better than anticipated market full of produce and farmers. I heard many stories, some of them devastating. And I loaded up on gorgeous produce, including a box of tomatoes.

Before lunch today we did the pesto process. Before dinner we did the two tomato sauces (one was carrot/onion/lovage, the other was basil/garlic). As I type, the freezer is full as can be. And so am I. It was a bittersweet moment in the kitchen–slightly less joyous than it normally is considering. But we were all glad to have it.

MY MOM’S PERFECT* PESTO (*UNBIASED! THIS IS A FACT!)

2 stuffed cups of washed basil leaves (preferably organic/local, don’t bother drying them)

3 heaping tablespoons pine nuts

1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon salt (depending on how salty you like it)

1 small garlic clove (go big if you like garlic)

1/3 cup olive oil (preferably organic/local though there is no local Hudson Valley olive oil)

Blend all of the above in a food processor. If not using right away, freeze as is. Defrost when ready to use.

Serve with 1 pound of pasta and tons of parmesan cheese. Tip: reserve some pasta cooking water to use as needed when mixing the pesto with the pasta.

Blurry Cellphone Shot Of Sorting Pine Nuts

Pesto Filled Freezer

Recipe: Chilled Summer Squash Soup

  • July 24, 2011 9:41 am

Earlier this week I said I had reached the point in the summer where I had had enough summer squash and asked readers how they were cooking theirs. I got great responses. Here’s what Glenny Cameron, my editorial assistant, is doing with her haul.

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Summer squash has been in abundance this season, and I honestly cannot complain.  I find this vegetable to be super versatile, and it keeps well in the refrigerator.  I’ve been eating it roasted, shaved raw into salads, and sliced atop a garden pizza (AKA put whatever I have in the fridge on some pizza dough and call it a night –wonderful and easy).  When the heat took a turn for the bold this week, I began thinking about chilled soups.  I’m not a huge fan of cold soup, but on sweaty days like these, they are a welcome relief and don’t require turning on the oven.  Totally satisfying.  Here is a simple recipe for my summer squash soup.  (Don’t forget that you can play with the seasonings!  Use your favorite spices and herbs and make it your own.)

CUMIN SPIKED SUMMER SQUASH SOUP

3-4 medium assorted summer squash, diced

1 medium onion, chopped

3-4 cloves of garlic, chopped

1 1/2 tsp cumin

salt and pepper

4 cups vegetable broth (or water)

1 generous cup chopped cilantro (plus more for yogurt)

greek yogurt

1 lemon

Sautee garlic and onions in a large pot over medium heat.  Add salt, pepper and cumin and continue to cook until onions have softened and garlic is slightly brown.

Add diced squash and vegetable broth.  Make sure to add enough liquid to cover the squash.  Bring to boil.  Cook until squash is very tender (about 20 minutes).

Remove from heat and add cilantro.  Using a blender or an immersion blender, puree (carefully!) the soup until very smooth.  I added a little more water at this stage to reach my desired consistency – thick, but not dense.  Put in the fridge to chill.  (This will take a few hours, so plan ahead.  If you don’t have enough time, you can always put it in the freezer or in an ice bath.)

Meanwhile, mix greek yogurt with a few tablespoons of chopped cilantro and salt.

Squeeze a few tablespoons of fresh lemon juice into your cold soup.  Taste and adjust the seasoning – chilled soups tend to need more salt and spice than hot ones, so keep that in mind when flavoring.  Serve with a dollop of the yogurt and more cilantro for garnish.

To make it a more substantial meal, I served mine with spicy shrimp and roasted tomatoes on skewers, but you could add anything.  Croutons?  Feta?  Corn salsa?  Keep experimenting and you’ll be surprised by how exciting summer squash can be!

–Glenny Cameron

Glenny's full spread, a simple summer meal.

CSA Overload: How To Use Every Last Morsel (aka Glenny Makes Cocktails, Vinegar, Gin, And Syrup)

  • July 16, 2011 8:59 am

I was out of town on Tuesday and offered my CSA share to my lovely editorial assistant Glenny. The catch: she had to trek to get it in one zillion degree weather (subway plus a walk). I love it when people who adore produce do it justice when I’m unable to (even though I get jealous! I missed the first week of the fruit share! argh! I’ve never had blueberries from this CSA before!). When I sniffed around and asked Glenny what she made with the goods, one of her answers floored me. She made cocktails with the thai basil! It has never, ever occurred to me in ten years of being a member of this CSA (check out the farm here) to make a cocktail with my herbs. I guess my age is showing. All I do is shove it all together and try to get it on the table before my five-year-old is too hungry. But how good does this sound? Also — props to her for using everything. I know from experience that I sometimes let the herbs go to waste. All too often I use a few sprigs and then toss them in the compost when they start to look worse for wear. So much so that I tend to put them on the CSA swap table at pick up and take something else I know I will use. No longer. I’m totally inspired by Glenny’s recipes below. Cheers!

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This past week I was gifted a wonderful surprise: Alexandra’s CSA share!  As she was out of town, I was the lucky girl who collected her family’s allotment of fresh produce.  What a treat!  Summer squash, heirloom cucumbers, lots of lettuce, and (swoon!) blueberries, apricots, and red currants.  I’ve been eating very well for the past few days, and have plenty more feasts on the horizon.  While most of the vegetables are staying fresh in my refrigerator, the two huge bunches of thai basil were already starting to wilt on my (sweltering) walk from the pick-up location.  Not wanting to waste a scrap, I decided quickly that the basil would have to be put to use immediately.  Some was used for infusing vinegar, infusing gin, and making simple syrup, but I was still overwhelmed with the amount I had left.  Lucky for me, my boyfriend is a bit of a cocktail ace and was excited to play around with new ingredients.  Here are two delicious, refreshing, and seasonal cocktails for those humid summer evenings when you find yourself with just too much thai basil.

A BOOZY, BASILY BLUEBERRY COCKTAIL

3 to 5 thai basil leaves

1/3 cup blueberries

Muddle in base of a cocktail shaker.

Add:

2 oz dry gin

1 oz fresh lime juice

1 oz honey (or agave nectar)

Fill shaker to the top with ice and shake for 20 seconds.  Strain into ice-filled cocktail glasses.  Garnish with a basil leaf and some whole blueberries.


CUCUMBER BASIL MARTINI

3 to 5 cucumber slices, peeled

3 to 5 basil leaves

Muddle in base of a cocktail shaker.

Add:

2 oz dry gin (or vodka)

3/4 oz Dolin Blanc (vermouth blanc)

Fill shaker to the top with ice and shake for 20 seconds.  Don’t strain the mixture, just pour into cocktail glasses.  Garnish with a cucumber round.

THAI BASIL VINEGAR

Mix 1 quart white wine vinegar with 2 cups chopped basil in a large jam jar.  Let stand in a cool, dark place for 2 weeks.  Strain basil leaves and use for salad dressings and marinades.

THAI BASIL GIN

Mix 2 cups dry gin with 1 cup chopped basil in a medium jam jar.  Let stand in a cool, dark place for 2 to 3 months, depending on how strong you’d like the flavor to be.  Strain the basil and use gin for cocktails, or simply drink on ice.

THAI BASIL SIMPLE SYRUP

Combine 1 cup water, 1 cup sugar, and 1 cup chopped basil in a medium saucepan.  Bring to a boil and stir until sugar is dissolved.  Remove from heat and let stand for 15 to 20 minutes.  Strain basil and use syrup to flavor baked goods, lemonade, or as a base for a sorbet.