Friday, August 22, 2008

Our Favorite Summer Dinner

This beautiful platter of summer vegetables and feta cheese has become one my husband and I's favorite summer dinners. It is so easy to do and tastes wonderful. This is a great way to showcase all those amazing heirloom tomatoes available right now at the farmers market. Make sure you use a good quality feta cheese. The one I use is a sheep milk feta made in Israel. I buy it at Trader Joe's, and it is delicious (and free of hormones, even better!!). The secret here is to keep it simple and to season to taste, that is why there is no recipe, just guidelines. Let the vegetables and cheese speak for them selves. I consider items such as high quality extra virgin olive oil and good vinegars to be seasonings, so they should be added to personal taste. We usually eat this with toasted baguette, toasted whole grain country bread, or with whole wheat pita bread. You can put the platter together ahead of time, just do not season the tomatoes until last minute, including the drizzle of olive oil.

Our Favorite Summer Dinner

For the Tomatoes
-Heirloom tomatoes of all kinds, sliced or cut into wedges
-Chopped fresh basil
-High quality extra virgin olive oil
-Salt and fresh ground black pepper

Decoratively place the cut tomatoes onto a big platter. Drizzle with good extra virgin olive oil, and sprinkle with chopped fresh basil, salt, and fresh ground black pepper.

For the Feta
-1/2 block of sheep milk feta, sliced
-High quality extra virgin olive oil
-Sprinkling of red chili flakes

Place the feta slices next to the tomatoes, drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle with red chili flakes.

For the Green Bean and Cucumber Salad
-Steamed green beans, cut into thirds (probably about 1/2 pound)
-1 cucumber, thinly sliced
-1/4 cup of quartered kalamata olives
-Drizzle of red wine vinegar (probably about 2-3 tablespoons)
-High quality extra virgin olive oil (about 3 tablespoons)
-Salt and fresh ground pepper

Toss the green beans, cucumber, and olives together. Drizzle with red wine vinegar and olive oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and adjust vinegar and olive oil to desired taste.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Spaghetti with Heirloom Tomatoes, Leeks, and Olives

Here is a quick recipe to try. It screams summer, is quite fantastic, and really easy to make. Make sure to add the heirloom tomatoes right at the end so they do not get overcooked. You just want to warm them through. I used a large variety of heirlooms including Cherokee Purple, Green Zebra, and Pineapple. If you live in the Central Coast area, there is a man who sells all of these beautiful tomatoes at both the Morro Bay market (Thursdays, 3-5 p.m., Spencer's shopping center), and the Los Osos market (Monday, 2-4:30 p.m., Baywood).

Spaghetti with Heirloom Tomatoes, Leeks, and Olives

-8 oz dry spaghetti (whole wheat or regular)
-2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
-1 large or 2 small leeks, white and light green parts only
thinly sliced into half moons
-3 large cloves garlic, sliced thin
- ½ cup dry white wine
-Zest of 1 small lemon
-1/4 cup kalamata olives, quartered
-2 cups roughly chopped heirloom tomatoes
-1/4 cup thinly sliced basil
-Salt, black pepper, and a pinch of chili flakes to taste

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.

Heat the extra virgin olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. When hot, add in the leeks and a pinch of salt. Sweat the leeks until they become soft and tender, stirring frequently, about 7-10 minutes. Adjust the heat if necessary to avoid too much browning. Add in the sliced garlic and sweat 2 minutes more.

While the leeks are cooking, add the spaghetti to the boiling water. Cook the spaghetti according to package directions, or until the spaghetti is tender but al dente. Strain, reserving ¼ cup of the pasta water. Place the hot pasta in a large bowl.

Add the white wine, lemon zest, and kalamata olives to the leeks. Cook about 3 minutes, or until the juices in the pan have reduced by about half. Add in the tomatoes and the reserved pasta water. Cook just until the tomatoes become warm and the sauce is slightly thick. Season with salt, black pepper, and a small pinch of chili flakes to taste. Pour the hot sauce over the pasta, add in the basil, and toss to distribute. Serve hot.