Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Summer Corn and Vegetable Soup

Sorry everyone about the long pause in between postings. It may be like this for the next couple of weeks as my husband and I reach our last month of pregnancy. We are about to start month 9 and I'm finding it a little bit harder to stay focused. I have also been working on my book quite a bit, as well as a few other things, so my next couple of postings may just be recipes and not much else. Anyways, the recipe I'm posting today was something I made quite quickly with a whole lot of extra veggies I had in the refrigerator. This soup is a great way to use up all the extras that come from gardening friends. The list of ingredients is a little long, but it is very easy to make and delicious. I used my stripped corn cobs to make a light stock for the soup, but any vegetable stock can be used. Just make sure your stock is not salted. You want to do the seasoning, not the company making the stock. I also like to scrape the corn cobs once the kernels have been removed. Scraping removes the extra bits of corn still attached inside those little individual cells on the cob, and also removes a very tasty sort of corn cream that comes along with the little pieces. This step really makes a differenc in the end product, so don't skip it.

Summer Corn and Vegetable Soup

For the Corn Stock
-3 ears sweet corn, kernels removed and set aside, cobs saved
-1 yellow onion, roughly chopped
-4 cups water

Scrape the corn cobs with the back of your knife to remove the hidden bits of leftover corn kernels, as well as the creamy corn milk. Place with the reserved corn kernels. Put the cobs into a large soup pot along with the chopped onion and the water. Bring to a simmer and cook for about 30 minutes. Strain and set aside to use for the soup. This should make 3 - 3 1/2 cups stock.

For the Soup
-1/2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil or butter (butter is best when it comes to anything involving sweet corn)
-1 medium red or yellow onion, diced small
-2 medium sized Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and diced small
-reserved corn kernels from cobs, or about 2 cups
-3 - 3 1/2 cups corn stock or vegetable stock
-1 crookneck or Gold Bar squash, diced small
-1 zucchini, diced small
-1 cup thinly sliced green beans
-1/2 cup green peas, defrosted if using frozen
-1 ripe tomato, diced small
-1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
-1/2 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
-salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Heat the extra virgin olive oil or butter in a soup pot over medium heat. When hot, add in the onion and cook until it begins to slightly soften, about 3 minutes. Add in the potatoes and cook about 3-4 minutes more. Add in the corn and the stock. Bring to a simmer, and gently cook until the potatoes become tender. Remove from the heat. Transfer half of the soup to the bowl of a food processor fitted with an s-blade. Roughly puree and add back to the pot with the other half of the soup. Alternately, smash half of the soup with a potato masher until you obtain a rough consistency, or even use a hand held blender to puree half of the soup in the pot. Return the pot to medium heat.

Bring back to a simmer and add in the green beans, squash, and fresh green peas if using. Cook about 3-4 minutes, or until the vegetables become tender. Add in the defrosted green peas (if using instead of fresh), diced tomato, and fresh herbs. Heat through and season to taste with salt and fresh ground pepper. Serve hot.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Eggs Baked with Tomatoes, Summer Squash, and Red Onions

I think eggs are highly under appreciated. They have received a bad rap for raising cholesterol, though now many studies are suggesting otherwise. I have a different concern regarding the egg; its quality. Don't worry, I'll keep it short.

Eggs have always been an important component of the small family farm. Hens not only supply a farming family with plenty of tasty, high quality protein, but also with terrific manure to fertilize growing plants, as well as some pest control. But just like dairy and meats, much of our egg production has left the small family farm to be raised by enormous agribusinesses, losing most of the beautiful qualities an honest egg has to offer. Hens no longer roam free to peck at bugs and fill up on grasses, which is what gives an egg it's bright orange yolk and omega-3 fatty acid content. Instead, they are packed into small cages and fed highly un-natural diets, making their yolks and whites pale, unhealthy, and tasteless. No wonder we insist on omelettes overfilled with meats and cheeses, our eggs have no true flavor. I truly believe an omelette should be about the egg, not the huge mess added to it. Eggs (as well as dairy, meats, and good wine), should have flavors reminiscent of the landscape in which they have been raised. There is a beautiful word for this; Terroir. Terroir means "the tastes that emerge from the natural environment where a food is cultivated" (Trubeck, A. Eating Well Magazine; 3 Questions for a Food Anthropologist. August 2008, pg 16). Shouldn't all food follow this rule? On this note, I am begging you to use good eggs. Most store bought, industrially produced eggs are not worth the $1.69 you spend. Yes they are cheap, but for good reason; they offer nothing in flavor or nutrition. Spend $4.00 at your farmers market, or $3.69 for organic, free range eggs. Forgo the hormones and antibiotics. Taste, savour, and support farmers making a difference; not only in protecting diversity and natural landscape, but human health as well. Consider the true cost of a cheap egg, which ultimately exceeds it's cheap price tag. O.k., I'll stop ranting, most of you know me well and have heard this before.

This recipe is very good and easy to prepare. I would say it easily serves 2-4 as a main dish when served with a side of creamy polenta or rice pilaf. A nice loaf of fresh, crusty bread would also be excellent.

Eggs Baked With Tomatoes, Summer Squash, and Red Onions

-1 medium sized red onion, diced small
-3 small summer squash (zucchini, gold bar, crookneck...), cut in half and sliced 1/2 inch thick
-3 medium sized tomatoes, cut into large chunks
-1/2 tablespoon minced fresh thyme
-3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
-2 1/2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
-4 to 5 large, free range, organic eggs
-salt and black pepper to taste

Pre-heat the oven to 375 degrees.

In a heavy 9 inch square ceramic baking dish, layer the diced red onion, squash, tomatoes, and herbs. Toss with the extra virgin olive oil and season with a little salt and black pepper. Place in the oven, covered, and bake for about 25-30 minutes, or until the vegetables become tender and the tomatoes have released their liquid. Taste the vegetables and add a little more seasoning if necessary. Crack the eggs into the vegetables, letting them rest right on top (they will settle in as they cook). Place back into the oven, uncovered, and cook until the eggs reach desired doneness; about 15 minutes for a medium cooked egg. Remove from the oven, sprinkle a little fresh salt on the eggs, and serve hot.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Summer Panzanella Salad

Panzanella salad is traditionally an Italian bread salad made with tomatoes, onions, stale bread chunks, basil, vinegar, and olive oil. Some recipes call for soaking the stale bread in water to soften and then the water is squeezed out, while others prefer the bread crunchy or even toasted. Cucumbers, peppers, and other herbs may also be used.

I personally like to use bread chunks that have been tossed in a little olive oil and toasted in the oven. This allows the bread chunks to soak up the dressing and become slightly chewy. Bread soaked in water first and then squeezed out leads to a soggier salad. I also like to add cucumbers and peppers. In this recipe I used Armenian cucumbers. Armenian cucumbers are long, curled, and a very light green color with shallow grooves running the length of the cucumber. They are quite crunchy with smooth, firm flesh and thin skin that does not need to be peeled. Armenian cucumbers seem to be less watery than English cucumbers, so they do not leech lots of liquid once salted in a salad. But by all means, any cucumber will do for this recipe. I also used an Italian green pepper, which is a long, slightly twisted pepper with thin flesh and a small seed pocket. It does not resemble a green bell pepper at all, but does taste slightly similar. Italian green peppers are a bit stronger and more peppery, but with no heat. They kind of taste like a jalapeno that lacks heat. Again, any kind of pepper could be used here such as red or green bell peppers, or even a jalapeno or Serrano if you like a little heat. The only thing I ask of you if you make this recipe is to use fresh herbs and a high quality cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil. The quality of the olive oil is very important since the bread will be soaking it up.

Summer Panzanella Salad

-1 small shallot, minced
-1 small clove garlic, minced
-1 medium sized Armenian cucumber cut in half
and sliced thin
-1 ½ cups mixed small tomatoes, sliced in half
-1 Italian green pepper, seeds removed, sliced thin
-1 cup toasted or stale bread cubes
-2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
-2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
-2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
-1-1 1/2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
-Salt and black pepper

Combine everything in a large bowl and toss to mix thoroughly. Season to taste with salt and black pepper. Let sit at least 15 minutes. Taste again and adjust seasoning if necessary, adding more extra virgin olive oil or balsamic vinegar if desired.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Mixed Summer Beans with Shallots and Pistachios

I spent the last four days at my parents house up by Yosemite and while there I went to the farmers market down in Fresno. Kind of old stomping grounds, I use to shop there for a restaurant I worked for about 5 years ago. All the same farmers and all the same great produce. I love my farmers market here in SLO, but the Fresno one does have some extras that we do not have (just yet anyway). Being so hot in the valley, the Fresno farmers market was overflowing with summer produce. Lots of tomatoes, all kinds of summer beans, okra, eggplants, basil, corn, and my favorite, watermelon (I bought one and it was delicious!). Many kinds of stone fruit including peaches, nectarines, plums, pluots, and apricots. Lots of berries too. Because it is so hot, the Fresno market does not have many of the items we have year round such as carrots, beets, broccoli, and greens (there were some greens, but they were quite shabby looking), so the SLO market does have an edge. There is a wonderful organic stand at the Fresno market that sells specialty Italian varieties of produce. I bought some terrific basil, Trumpet squash, and red torpedo onions. At another stand I bought the theme of today's recipe; mixed summer beans. I purchased Romano, yellow wax, and green beans. I plan on going back this Saturday since I will be in the area again for 4th of July. I will admit, I LOVE the heat and miss it during the summer months. I love Cayucos, but it is a little cold for me.

This recipe is delicious and quite beautiful. If you happen to see Royal Burgundy beans in addition to green beans and yellow wax, buy them. They will lose a little color once cooked, but they are still gorgeous. The fresh herbs in this recipe are essential, so if you can't find fresh oregano and thyme, then use fresh parsley or basil instead, don't substitute dry herbs. Other nuts can be used as well such as walnuts, hazelnuts, and almonds.

Mixed Summer Beans with Shallots and Pistachios

-1 pound mixed summer beans, tails removed
-2 shallots, minced
-1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- ¼ cup pistachios, roughly chopped
-2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme
-1 teaspoon minced fresh oregano
-salt and white pepper to taste
-squeeze of lemon

Steam the beans in a steamer basket set over boiling water until tender but still with a slight bite (al dente). Alternatively, blanch the beans in boiling salted water until al dente. When tender, immediately run under cold water or shock in ice water to stop the cooking process and set the color. If using Royal Burgundy beans, the purple color will fade a bit with cooking. Set aside.
Heat the extra virgin olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. When hot, add in the minced shallots. Sweat the shallots until they soften and just slightly brown, about 4-5 minutes. Add in the pistachios, cooked beans, fresh chopped herbs, and about 1-2 tablespoons water or vegetable stock. Stir to combine and heat through, about 3-5 minutes more. Season to taste with salt, white pepper, and a squeeze of lemon.