Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Winding Down

The cicadas’ steady chirping in the trees heralds a changing season. The heat of midday, strongest in July, has now receded a bit and reduced the number of necessary trips to the water well. This is the beginning of the summer wind-down. Make no mistake, there is still plenty of work to do, weeds will still grow even if more slowly, vegetables will still need to be harvested, but the rapid growth and energy necessary for leaf and stalk production is now going towards ripening the fruit.

Fall successions of greens, crops too fragile for the July heat, have been planted and will be enjoyed in September just as they were craved in June. The whole countryside, still green, has nonetheless taken on a different aura. The bottom leaves of stalks have begun to dry down, on grass, on corn, soybeans, and other crops.

Walking through the garden gives a sense of satisfaction – the memory of how much has already been accomplished. It is a daily reminder that our lives are but a part of this pattern. We should be satisfied with our work, even in the midst of it.

Potluck Recipe #29: Zucchini Cashew Bread

It's that time of year: you turn your back on the garden for one minute and come back to find green giants lurking under the broad leaves of your zucchini plant. Eek! What do you do with these behemoths?

Have no fear, you've got lots of options: grill them, stuff them, shred them into a raw salad, throw them in ratatouille or casserole. Try zucchini fritters, zucchini pizza -- even zucchini brownies! My personal favorite is zucchini bread, and this recipe is moist and sweet, perfect for breakfast, snacks and dessert.

Zucchini Cashew Bread

Adapted from a recipe by Mark Bittman

(makes one loaf)

4 tbsp. butter
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
3/4 cup milk or orange juice
1 tbsp. grated orange zest
1 egg
1 cup zucchini, peeled and grated
1/2 cup chopped cashews

1. Heat the oven to 350°F. Grease a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan with butter.
2. Stir together the dry ingredients. Cut the butter into bits, then use a pastry blender or your fingers to mix it into the dry ingredients until there are no large pieces.
3. Beat together the milk or juice, zest and egg. Pour into the dry ingredients, mixing just enough to moisten. Be careful not to overdo it -- too much mixing will create large air pockets in the bread. Fold in the zucchini and nuts, and then pour the batter into the loaf pan.
4. Bake for about an hour or until the bread is golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool on a rack for 15 minutes before removing from the pan.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Potluck Recipe #28: Gazpacho

Every evening after work, we wander around the garden checking on our veggies and come back to the house with armloads of tomatoes. Five plants seemed perfect in the spring, when they were small and we wondered, cynically, if the heirlooms would produce or once again leave us tomato-less and wishing we'd gone with Early Girls. I'm not complaining — I truly love tomatoes -- but I have reached a point where I'm no longer eating them like candy, by the handful, and it's time to branch out from salad.

Enter gazpacho. This recipe is based on one from Spanish cookbook author Penelope Casas. It includes bread, which I think is essential for distinguishing gazpacho from a V-8 or a Bloody Mary. I've added croutons to the top because a little toast is always tasty.


(4 to 6 servings)

2 1/2 pounds ripe tomatoes, quartered
2 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
1 medium red bell pepper, diced
5 slices of day-old, artisan bread, crust removed
2 tbsp sherry vinegar
2 tsp kosher or sea salt
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp granulated sugar
1/2 cup mild extra-virgin olive oil

1. Place half the tomatoes, one slice of bread, and all of the garlic, pepper, vinegar, salt, cumin (if using) and sugar in a food processor or blender. Process until all the ingredients are integrated and, with the motor running, add the remaining tomatoes. Gradually add the oil, and process until smooth.
2. Pass the gazpacho through a food mill or strainer, pressing with the back of a ladle to extract as much liquid as possible. Discard solids.
3. Chill for several hours or overnight. Taste and add more vinegar or salt if needed. Serve with croutons.

1. Preheat oven to 475 degrees.
2. Brush remaining pieces of bread with olive oil and salt and pepper to taste, and then cut the slices into crouton size squares and arrange them on a baking sheet.
3. Bake until golden brown and set aside to cool.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Potluck Recipe #27: Dan Dan Noodles

As a college student, I ate these noodles several times a week. I bought them from a tiny stand in an open market and ate them, right from the takeout box, standing on the street corner. Later, I learned to make the sauce at home and saved a couple bucks, along the way developing a taste for udon and buckwheat soba noodles.

There is life after ramen, of course, but occasionally I crave the comfort of that spicy peanut sauce and the ease of a one-bowl meal. As a cold salad, they make a great summer potluck dish and travel well, provided you toss the ingredients together just before eating, so the noodles stay al dente.

Dan Dan Noodles

Peanut sauce
1/2 cup smooth peanut butter
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/3 cup warm water
2 tbsp. chopped peeled fresh ginger
1 medium garlic clove, chopped
2 tbsp. white vinegar
1 1/2 tbsp sesame oil
2 tsp. honey
1 tsp. dried hot red pepper flakes

3/4 lb soba, udon, ramen or rice noodles
4 scallions, thinly sliced
1 red bell pepper, cut into 1/8-inch-thick strips
1 small cucumber, peeled, seeded and cut into 1/4 strips (or to taste)

1. Blend all dressing ingredients together until smooth and then transfer them to a large serving bowl.
2. Cook noodles according to directions in a pot of salted, boiling water. Drain in a colander and, if eating warm, toss with dressing and vegetables. You can also eat these noodles as a cold salad. Simple rinse the noodles in cold water after draining and toss with sauce and vegetables. In either case, serve immediately.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Open Farms: The Harvest

Open Farms is having a bountiful harvest this summer. Last month’s rain and heat have resulted in tremendous growth in all of the vegetables on the farm. As I write this our dedicated volunteers are harvesting the very freshest cucumbers, tomatoes, carrots and green beans for our 700 clients.

We’re having a good time out here. Even with the fast-cycles of planting, growth, weeding, pruning, and harvesting, we’ve had some time to sit down in the shade of the trees and talk about our work. It’s in those moments that we all seem to realize that while we may have a specific task at hand – weeding the chard, or harvesting the basil for example – we’re part of something much bigger. The food that we’re producing is local, fresh and sustainable, and with our experiences out on the farm, we’re able to join the global conversation about how to best feed those in our community and in the world both now and in the future.

The basis of our conversation comes from knowledge of what it feels like to hold a freshly picked cucumber, to hold the soil in our hands and to know that it contains more life in a tiny handful than we ever imagined. It is with these experiences that we join in the growing conversation about food and justice. Not only head knowledge, but with a heartfelt connection to the land that sustains us.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Potluck Recipe #26: Panko fried zucchini blossoms

In Texas, where the growing season is very long — provided one waters religiously — I learned to sacrifice the first zucchini blossoms to my frying pan. Lightly fried, they are peppery and vegetal, the very essence of the zucchini they would have become had you not nipped them in the bud, so to speak.

Their ruffled, yellow petals are just lovely in a panko batter, making a very pretty summer presentation alongside your main dish.

Panko fried zucchini blossoms

Zucchini flowers
Egg yolks (one for each 1/2 dozen or less flowers]
1 cup sparkling water
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
Salt and pepper
Panko bread crumbs
Vegetable or a light olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Gently rinse the flowers inside and out and trim the stems. Set aside to drain.

2. In a medium bowl, beat egg yolks and add water, whisking until completely mixed. Whisk in flour, salt and pepper and then add just enough panko to create a creamy batter that will stick to blossoms.

3. Heat about 1 inch of oil in a large deep skillet over medium-high. Coat flowers in batter one at a time and add to the pan, frying them until golden brown on both sides — about two minutes total. Drain on a paper towel or bag. Sprinkle with salt and fresh pepper and serve warm.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Potluck Recipe #25: Onions, Three Ways

In honor of the pounds and pounds of onions coming to our kitchen from Open Farms, here are three ways to prepare them. Why not host an onion-themed potluck for Open Arms this month?

Balsamic Red Onions

There are a lot of recipes for this concoction, many of which are a sort of confit featuring lots of butter and a more caramelized onion. I prefer the simple, bright sweetness of the balsamic alone. I love these onions on spinach salads, with Manchego cheese on a cracker, and atop burger or steak.

1 large red onion, peeled, chopped in half and sliced thin
1-2 tbsp of sweet, mellow balsamic vinegar
Pepper to taste

1. Heat the balsamic vinegar -- in as small a sauce pan as will accommodate your onion -- until it is almost simmering.
2. Add the red onion, cooking until it is soft and has absorbed all of the balsamic vinegar; do not allow it to brown.
3. Remove from heat and pepper to taste. If serving on meat, use warm; on salad, allow it to cool completely.

Fried Yellow Onions

These are not onion rings, these are crispy little onion strings that melt in your mouth. A Danish friend introduced them to me — on a hot dog, of all places. I have since discovered that they are tasty on top of vegetables, steak, fish, stew … well, pretty much anywhere. Sometimes, every last one of them is devoured before they get to the plate.

1 yellow onion, sliced into paper thin rings
Vegetable or canola oil

1. Dry onion strings between paper towels — it doesn't hurt to stack handfuls of onions between paper towels and weight them with a book. After a few hours, they should be relatively dry and ready to fry.
2. Heat 2-3 inches of oil on medium-high in a small sauce pan until it reaches 350 degrees.
3. Add a small handful of onions to the hot oil using a large slotted spoon, cooking until just golden (a minute or less)
4. Using the slotted spoon, remove onions to a paper bag or towels and allow oil to drain.
5. Enjoy!

Caramelized Onions

When you slowly cook onions over an extended length of time, their natural sugars caramelize, making them meltingly tender and sweet. Caramelizing takes a bit of time, but your patience will be well-rewarded. The flavorful results of your labor are awesome on pizza, especially when combined with gorgonzola cheese and thinly sliced pear.

2 large yellow onions, thinly sliced
1 tbsp. butter
1 tbsp. olive oil
Salt and pepper

1. Heat the olive oil and butter in a heavy skillet over medium-low heat.
2. Spread the onion slices evenly over the pan, sprinkle with salt and a little pepper, and let them cook, stirring occasionally. Depending on the strength of your burner, you may need to reduce the heat to prevent the onions from browning too quickly or burning. Add a little bit of water to the pan if they start to dry out.
3. Continue to cook and occasionally scrape the pan until the onions are tender, sweet, and a deep golden brown. This process usually takes about 25-30 minutes.