Potato-Leek Pancakes with Pear Sauce

On nights that I’m just cooking for myself, I have huge problems motivating to cook anything remotely resembling a coherent dinner. Lots of times I just make scrambled eggs. Sometimes I make popcorn.  These potato pancakes are my attempt at cooking a meal that’s a little more like real food, but still is cheap (really cheap) and lightning fast to throw together.  potato pancakesYou probably already know how to make potato pancakes, but sometimes I write stuff here more to remind people that it’s a good idea.  Instead of having them with the traditional applesauce accompaniment, I used bartlett pear sauce that I made earlier this fall and it was totally delicious.  My friend Jen from Salt Hollow Flower Farm turned me on to canning pear sauce instead of applesauce, and I have to agree, it really is divine.  (I used this pear sauce recipe here.)

POTATO LEEK PANCAKES

Makes: 4 medium pancakes or 8 small pancakes

Cook Time: 20 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 1 c. of shredded potato, tightly packed (about 2 large potatoes)
  • 1/4 c. thinly sliced leeks
  • 1 egg
  • 3 tbs. wheat flour
  • salt & pepper
  • 2 tbs. safflower or other neutral flavored oil
  • for serving: pear sauce, sour cream and sliced scallions

Combine the potato, leeks, egg and flour in a mixing bowl. Season with salt and pepper and mix together everything thoroughly. Heat the oil in a frying pan on high heat. Form the potato mixture into patties and set them in the pan. Cook for about three minutes, then flip them with a spatula to cook the other side for a few minutes.  The pancakes are done with each side is a nice shade of golden brown.  Serve immediately, topped with sour cream, pear sauce, and scallions.

Nectarine Sorbet Sodas

nectarine sorbet sodaOur weather forecast is super depressing.  I’m trying to come to grips with the fact that nothing is really going to get done this week because I’m going to spend most of the time sitting around sweating and complaining about how hot it is.  I can deal with temperatures up to about 104, but once it crosses that….. when it’s in the 110s, I basically give up on life.  I did have a lightning bolt of inspiration that’s making these week a little bit more tolerable, though….. these nectarine sorbet sodas that I’ve been making are so refreshing and cold, I can’t stop drinking them.  I found some amazing nectarines at a farm stand near us last week, so juicy that they ended up dripping all over us and making a huge mess when we tried to eat them.  They’re perfectly ripe and sweet and it would be a shame to fuss with them too much.

The nectarines turned into a honey-sweetened sorbet which has then been going into sorbet sodas. I’ve been playing around with different combinations: the sorbet floated in plain seltzer water is barely sweet at all (how I like it), but for something a little sweeter, I’ve tried adding a splash of lemonade and some syrup from the pantry.  Right now I have elderflower syrup and rhubarb syrup, both of which go wonderfully with nectarine sorbet, but I’m sure that lots of other fruit syrups would be really nice.  (Blackberry? Blueberry? Why don’t I already have these in the pantry….?)

NECTARINE SORBET FLOATS

Prep Time: 5 minutes

Makes: 1 float

Ingredients:

  • 1 scoop of nectarine sorbet (recipe follows)
  • seltzer water
  • lemonade or soda syrup (optional)
  • nectarine slices, for garnish

Put a scoop of sorbet in the bottom of a glass.  Add a splash of lemonade or soda syrup if you want some sweetness to your drink.  Top with seltzer water and garnish with nectarine slices.

 

NECTARINE SORBET

(I want to emphasize: this is really not that sweet. I’m not a big fan of sugary things  at all, but if you are, you’ll want to taste it and sweeten the mixture accordingly to your own taste. I was going for light and refreshing more than a sweet dessert with this recipe.)

Cook Time: 30 min, plus several hours in the fridge to cool the fruit puree

Special Equipment: ice cream maker

Ingredients:

  • 1 c. water
  • 1/4 c. honey
  • 8 large nectarines, quartered

Bring the water and honey to a simmer in a medium sized pot. Add the nectarine slices and simmer for 10 minutes.  Remove from heat, and puree with an immersion blender (or whatever you have…)  Put the nectarine puree in the fridge to cool completely.  Once it’s cold, just prepare the sorbet according to your ice cream maker’s instructions.

Dandelion Green Fritters

This recipe uses a lot of greens.  It also begs the question: if you fry an ingredient that’s generally considered good for you, and then eat a lot of the finished product, are you actually eating junk food? or is it health food?dandelion green frittersWe’re just going to ignore that whole issue since I really like eating these.   If you’ve ever been overzealous planting your swiss chard patch and ended up with a ridiculous amount of greens, this is one to bookmark.  Also if you end up buying lots of greens at the farmers market because they’re pretty and you figure that you’ll deal with them later.  Also if the farmers who grew your CSA box were overzealous planting their swiss chard patch and now you’re suffering the consequences.

When I made these  last week, we had them as a side dish with jerk chicken, along with white nectarine salsa, purple cabbage slaw, and a garden salad.  I served them with a dipping sauce that was just homemade sriracha mixed with mayonnaise.  You could also serve them as an appetizer, put them in a wrap (think: falafels) for a vegetarian lunch, and they’re even good cold out of the fridge. There’s lots of room to experiment with seasonings, too.  A little curry powder and they could go with your next indian dinner, or some lemon juice and feta cheese could give them more of a greek flavor. You could serve them with tomato sauce instead of sriracha-mayo, or maybe sweet chili sauce.

DANDELION GREEN FRITTERS

Cook Time: 20 minutes

Makes: I forgot to count them before we ate them all.  It makes as many as there are in that picture up top.  A big plate full.

Ingredients:

  • 2 tbs. butter
  • 2 big bunches of greens, roughly chopped: I used a mixture of swiss chard and dandelion greens, but anything you have is totally fine
  • 2 large tomatoes, diced
  • 2 1/2 c. whole wheat flour
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 4-5 eggs, beaten
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • a pinch of black pepper
  • safflower oil for frying, or any high-heat oil that you have

Heat the butter in a large skillet on medium-high heat.  Add the chopped greens and tomatoes and saute, stirring often, until the greens are tender (how long totally depends on what kind of greens you use).  Season this mixture with salt and pepper.  Taste it to make sure it tastes good (you could almost serve this as is…)

Now, put the greens in a mixing bowl with the flour, baking powder, salt and pepper.  Add the eggs a little bit at a time, stirring, until the mixture is about the consistency of pancake batter.  If it’s too dry, add another egg or some milk.  If it’s too wet, add some more flour (it should be pretty wet though).

Heat 1/4″ of oil into a large frying pan.  Working in batches once the oil is hot, drop small spoonfulls of batter into the oil.  You’ll want to cook them for about a minute, then flip them over to cook the other side and cook for another minute or two.  They should be a nice shade of fried-food-golden-brown when they’re done.  Let them cool on a paper towel for a minute, then serve with whatever dipping sauce makes you happy.

One last thing: if you decide to make these with swiss chard, go ahead and put the stems in too, they taste great!

 

How To Pull Off Your Own DIY Wedding, Pt 2: The Food!

When I saw all the boring menus offered on most wedding catering websites, we immediately decided just to cater the whole thing ourselves.  Other blogs talk about self-catering your wedding like it’s an insanely difficult task, along the lines of building a rocket ship or performing open-heart surgery, but it’s really not hard at all if you plan it right.  For anyone that enjoys cooking and is having a smallish wedding, I think it’s perfectly feasible. The key to doing this successfully is that you don’t want to actually cook anything on your wedding day.  I made virtually everything in advance and then just had my mom keep an eye on the oven while it all reheated. (We were outside trying to see if the dogs would sit still for wedding portraits.  They wouldn’t). wedding dog portraitIf you decide to go the self-catering route, there are a few things that you need to think about while you’re menu planning:

1. Does the dish hold well in the refrigerator for a day or two?

It’s perfectly fine to cook things several days in advance from a food safety standpoint, but will you be sacrificing texture or flavor? Steamed rice will dry out in the fridge, spaghetti is basically impossible to reheat without a microwave, mashed potatoes turn into one solid lump.  It’s better to think more along the lines of casseroles, braises, stews, curries and the like.  You can always do a test batch in the months leading up to the wedding and then see how it lasts in the fridge. Since we were cooking for such a large range of diets for our wedding day, we decided to go italian with everything. It tends to be a good common ground that will make everyone happy, from carnivores to vegans.

2. Do you have enough fridge space?

We were cooking for 25 people. We have a pretty average sized fridge and it was totally full of saran wrapped casserole dishes.  We couldn’t have fit one more thing if we tried.  Beverages were out in the garage and in coolers to stay cold. By this logic, I would estimate 1 refrigerator per 25 people. (You definitely don’t want to make a bunch of food and then realize you don’t have anywhere to store it…)

3. Remember food safety.

Remember to properly refrigerate the food you cook in advance. Make sure to reheat it thoroughly on the day of the event. When you’re cooking in the days leading up to the event, make sure you arrange your fridge properly and put vegetables and cooked food higher up than raw meats, which should be at the bottom of the fridge (so you don’t end up getting chicken juice getting on your raw vegan appetizers).

4. Menu Planning:

As with all local cooking, it’s not a good idea to get too set on a specific thing.  I knew what I had in the pantry and the garden, so I had some ideas, but I also shopped at the farmers market the week before the cooking.

With all that in mind, here’s the menu we figured out, doing our best to highlight the local foods we have available in February:

Friday Dinner:

We didn’t bother with a rehearsal or a rehearsal dinner, but for Friday night, when we had some friends over to help set up the space for the ceremony the next day, we had big pots of vegan curries that are simple to make and can hold on low for hours and hours.

 

and for Saturday, the wedding day:

Breakfast, self-serve for all of the guests that stayed with us:

Appetizers:

  • Vegan Summer Rolls stuffed with local greens, served with Peanut Sauce
  • Crab Rangoon, made with local dungennes crab and spring onions
  • Local Cheese Plate

Dinner:

  • Lasagna with beef & pork ragu, made with our home canned tomato sauce
  • Stuffed shells with local chard, ricotta custard and black pepper chevre from my friends at Shamrock Artisan Cheese, topped with our tomato sauce.
  • Vegan Polenta Casserole with Mushroom Ragu (The link takes to to a similar recipe with a different filling. Same idea though).
  • Garden Salad with greens from Floodgate Farms and Lovin’ Mama Farms

Dessert:

  • Vegan Chocolate Cake with Vegan Buttercream Frosting

 

Since I can’t write a post this long and not share a recipe, I should probably tell you about my summer rolls and peanut sauce…. summer rolls with peanut sauceThis is such a great appetizer; they always make people super happy and taste great.  Plus, since it’s really mostly salad, your guests don’t end up eating a bunch of rich food right off the bad (….. because that means food comas and food comas don’t really make for a fun party).  Summer rolls are super labor intensive, but they can be made a day in advance as long as you cover each layer thoroughly with saran wrap.   My new sister-in-law and I rolled about 100 of them while we hung out together the day before the wedding and it really went pretty quick.

The Kitchn has an excellent post about wrapping summer rolls, so I’m not going to bother re-photographing everything they already did….

For the peanut sauce, I use an approximation of the following recipe. (I wanted to tell you an exact version, but I burned out the motor in my blender, so now I just have to estimate.  I’ve made it so many times that this should be really close, though.)

Peanut Sauce

Cook Time: 5 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 2 c. freshly ground peanut butter, usually found in the bulk-food section of the grocery store
  • 1 red onion, roughly chopped
  • 1/2″ of peeled ginger root, roughly chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 2 or 3 hot peppers, depending on your heat preference (dried or fresh will both work)
  • 1/4 c. roughly chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1  c. orange juice
  • 2 tbs. soy sauce

Combine everything but the peanut butter in a blender.  Blend until smooth.  Add the peanut butter and blend again.* If the sauce is too thick for dipping, add some orange juice.  If it’s too thin and watery, add some more peanut butter. Season with salt and pepper to taste.  If it tastes too spicy, add some honey or sugar.  You can serve this immediately but it will hold in the fridge for several days.

*If you put in the peanut butter first, you’ll burn out motor in the blender.

Note: Next time I make peanut sauce, I’ll check the amounts on this recipe, but if someone else makes it first, please let me know how it goes.

 

Kale Salad with Blood Oranges, Fennel and Olives

bloodorangesandkaleSomething about spring is making me crave salads.

(It makes me feel like an adult to say I’m craving salads and that I’m totally not lying to sound cool).bloodorangesol, While kale salad never will be as good as, oh…. fried chicken, this one is crunchy and delicious with the raw fennel and olives. It’s an excellent combination.

I guess you could say: if you’re the kind of person who likes raw kale salads, this is a good one.

kale saladKale Salad with Fennel, Blood Oranges and Olives

Cook Time: 10 minutes plus several hours to marinade

Ingredients:

  • 2 medium bunches of kale
  • 10 blood oranges
  • 1 fennel bulb
  • 15 good olives
  • a drizzle of olive oil
  • salt and pepper

To prepare all the ingredients:

First, remove the stalks from the kale, then slice the leaves into very thin ribbons.

Peel 7 of the blood oranges then roughly chop them.

Slice the fennel bulb in half from top to bottom, the slice each half into very thin half moons.

Pit the olives and then roughly chop them.

Then: combine all the ingredients in a mixing bowl. Juice the three remaining blood oranges and drizzle the juice over the kale. Drizzle olive oil over the salad and season with salt and pepper. Mix well, cover and set in the fridge to marinade for a few hours or overnight.

Winter Vegetable & Lentil Stew

I think the easiest way to make something good out of whatever vegetables you have on hand is to make soup.  And it’s great, because I really like soup. I like cooking it. I like eating it. I like that you can make a big pot and put the leftovers in the fridge and have lunches for days. I do a fair amount of professional cooking, and soups and stews are the most obvious choices when I need to feed a mixed group of carnivores-vegetarians-vegans-gluten free – whatevers. It’s pretty simple just to make a big pot of veggie stew, maybe serve it with a green salad and a grain.

Really, one of the main things I like about soup is that its a huge pot of vegetables, so when I have a bowl, I can pat myself on the back for eating healthy things and not Doritos.

These were the vegetables I decided to turn into soup today: winter vegetablesSomething about the sweet, nutty flavor of the parsnips really made this recipe worth righting about here. It was delicious.

We had it for lunch, topped with some parmesan cheese, with a few slices of bread.   winter vegetable and lentil soup

Winter Vegetable and Lentil Stew

Cook Time: 2 hrs.

Makes: a big batch!

Ingredients:

  • 2 tbs. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 leek, sliced in half, rinsed, and then sliced into thin half moons
  • 1 carrot, diced
  • 3 celery ribs, tops included, diced
  • 4 parsnips, diced
  • 1/2 sm. buttercup squash, peeled, seeded, and sliced into 1/2” cubes
  • 1 bunch of swiss chard, roughly chopped
  • 2 c. crushed tomatoes with juice
  • about 13 c. water or stock
  • 1 lb. lentils
  • salt and pepper
  • a splash of apple cider vinegar
  • a pinch of cayenne pepper
  • grated parmesan cheese, for serving

 

Heat the olive oil in a large soup pot, on medium high heat. Add the carrots, celery, onions, leeks, parsnips, and buttercup squash.  Saute for about ten minutes, til the onions start looking translucent. Add the rest of the ingredients- the tomatoes, water, swiss chard (stems and all!) and lentils, and reduce heat to medium.  Simmer for a few hours, stirring occasionally. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and add the cider vinegar and cayenne if you think it needs a little kick.  To serve, top with grated parmesan.

Winter Squash Bisque with Gorgonzola and Toasted Walnuts

This is the best soup that I know how to make. Since I like you guys so much I wanted to share the recipe with you since it’s perfect for the holidays.butternutsquashbisqueMy mom has been making a version of this to serve on Thanksgiving for as long as I can remember.  I think she got it from either Sunset Magazine or Bon Appetit (an educated guess based on on the huge stacks of Sunset magazines she has in the front closet, years of subscriptions from a time before the internet). I never saw the original recipe, and it’s evolved a lot over the years as I tinkered around with it. This version that I’m sharing with you today is what I’ve settled on and have been making for quite awhile now.squashWinter squash always is a staple in our house since it’s so easy to preserve. We’ll grow a rainbow of different varieties during the summer and then keep them in bins in the pantry for the cold months. My favorites types are butternut, kabocha, and buttercup, although there are so many different varieties that it’s hard to really narrow it down to just those. This soup will work with any combination of what you have, though I have noticed that it doesn’t come out quite as good with pumpkin. Try to stick with varieties with drier, solid flesh, like butternuts. Sweet potatoes or yams will work just as well if you happen to have those.

Oh, and a note to any gardeners who were unsure about this: To preserve winter squash, just cut it off the vine when it’s ripe, leaving the stem attached, and store in a cool, dark place.  Ideally you’ll get them before they’ve gotten frosted on and left out in the rain for days, but I’ve also found some hidden out in the December garden that are still just fine.  Usually they’ll keep for months, but it’s a good idea to check your stash every so often to see if there are any that have soft spots or tiny bits of mold popping up.  That’s all you have to do. They really just preserve themselves.snowy trees

This recipe would be a wonderful light lunch for Christmas or New Year’s, a great for a weeknight supper when it’s freezing outside, or, if you’re busy and haven’t got a lot of time for cooking, make it in advance by a day or two when you have time and then reheat it. It may thicken a bit in the fridge but just add some water to thin it out and check the seasonings again.

Winter Squash Bisque with Gorgonzola Cheese and Toasted Walnuts

Ingredients:

  • 1 tbs. butter
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 2 celery ribs, diced
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • 3 or 4 fresh sage leaves
  • 1 sprig of fresh thyme
  • 12 c. cubed winter squash (peeled and seeded first*)
  • 8 c. water or stock
  • 1 c. heavy cream
  • 1/2 c. crumbled gorgonzola or blue cheese
  • 1/2 c. toasted walnuts or pecans
  • 1/2 c. chopped fresh parsley
  • salt and pepper

In a large soup pot, melt the butter on medium heat. Add the onion, celery, carrots, and sage, and saute until the onions are translucent. Add the winter squash and water (it should be enough to cover the cubed squash, but feel free add more. Turn the heat to low and simmer everything for an hour or two. Remove from the heat and puree with your tool of choice (blender, immersion blender, etc.). Put the pot back on the stove on medium heat and stir in the heavy cream. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Serve, topping each bowl with a few tablespoons of blue cheese, a sprinkle of nuts, and some fresh parsley.

Note: The gorgonzola cheese sounds weird if you haven’t tried it before but it’s vital. Don’t skip it or switch to a different cheese unless you’re allergic to moldy cheese or something. I’ve tried it with goat cheese and it’s not the same at all.

*I feel like there are already a million places on the internet that explain how to prepare winter squash. If you need help, just google. The main thing is to have a sharp chef’s knife and just to go for it — it really only takes a minute.

Happy Holidays!

Jam Vinaigrette from the Redwood Valley Farmers Market Chef Demo

I’m pretty excited about this.

So, a couple weeks ago at the Redwood Valley Farmers Market, my friend Amanda from Fairall’s Farm Fresh Eggs & Produce did a chef demo using some of the wonderful items available at the farmers market that morning.  She set up a delicious taco bar with chipotle sausage hash, a zesty salmon taco filling, and a big veggie and egg scramble, which you can find the recipes for here. She also made a huge farmers market salad with a jam vinaigrette that was so damn good I knew I had to write about it here and try to convince everyone on the internet to make too.

I’d never actually bothered making salad dressing with jam before, and it was so tasty that I went home and promptly made huge batch.  I guess  that when I thought about jam for salads, it sounded like it would be too sweet and overpowering.  I still think if you were having a really delicate salad of baby lettuces and sliced radishes, it would be a questionable idea at best.  Amanda’s salad was killer, though, and it’s because she didn’t just use lettuce, but also incorporated sliced cabbage, raw kale and chard leaves, summer squash and salad turnips.   These big, hearty vegetables stood up so well to the flavor of the jam.

Floodgate Farms grew the salad mix used as a base for everything, which in itself was outstanding.  It has more fresh produce than I’ve ever seen in any salad mix, ever, with fresh mint leaves, onion blossoms, sprigs of dill, nasturtium blossoms, purslane leaves, and more.  I’m not always much of a salad girl- I usually would rather have a big bowl of vegetable stew, like a ratatouille or the braised kale and white beans, but this salad mix is so beautiful and full of flavors that…. well, it makes me want to go buy more from them, even though I have a huge garden with plenty of my own vegetables.

Jam Vinaigrette

Cook Time: lightning fast

Ingredients:

  • jam:  I really like the flavor of dark berry or plum jams with the kale and cabbage, especially if they happen to be tart or low-sugar jams, but really, anything you want to use up will be good.
  • oil: I used hazelnut oil when I made it at home,  but anything you have will work.
  • vinegar: apple cider, champagne, sherry– again, whatever ya got.

In a half pint jar, combine two parts jam with two parts oil and one part vinegar. Shake it up. Pour over your salad. Eat.

Amanda’s Farmers Market Salad

In a big bowl, combine as many good salad things as you can find:

  • Salad Mix: different kinds of lettuce, diced onion blossoms, sprigs of fresh dill fronds and dill flowers, edible flowers, roughly chopped mint leaves, cilantro, parsley…. and any other things you can think of.Dark Leafy Greens: like shredded green cabbage, roughly chopped kale leaves and roughly chopped swiss chard leaves.  The more the merrier.  The key to growing really nice greens is to keep them well picked, so go out to the garden and pick any random leaves you can find.
  • Chopped Vegetables: summer squash, salad turnips, and cucumbers, etc.

Dress with jam vinaigrette, top with crumbled chevre or feta to make it even better, and serve.  My little brother ate a huge plate of it and said: “this salad is awesome, and I hate salad.”  So, it’s that kind of recipe, where you get to eat a really good meal, but then you get the added bonus of laughing when your family members who claim to hate kale end up eating a whole bunch of it — and liking it.

Amanda, thanks so much for sharing your wonderful cooking with everyone.  It was delicious!

Saucy Summer Vegetables

I meant to post this recipe a few weeks ago, but I couldn’t decide what it really is.  Is it a stew? A sauce? A soup? I still don’t know.

The reason I finally decided to share this:

If you have a vegetable garden, shop at the farmers market, or get  a CSA box, this combination of vegetables is bound to show up at some point, and this recipe is a really versatile way to put dinner (and then leftovers for lunch and other dinners) on the table with almost no planning at all. 
The flavor of this dish is kind of like a cross between a vodka sauce and a ratatouille.   Cook the veggies for a shorter time to leave it like a stew, and eat it with crusty bread and a salad.  Cook it for a long time, letting the moisture really reduce off, to make it into more of a pasta sauce.  Once it’s thick and saucy, you can  toss it with cooked penne, top with mozzarella cheese and bake it in the oven.  Or use it as the filling in a lasagna, alternating with layers of ricotta cheese.  I love this sauce served over a bowl of creamy polenta with mascarpone.  Fold it into some scrambled eggs and eat it for breakfast.   For something really luscious, make a batch of fettucini alfredo and then stir in some of this sauce — it’s so creamy and good, really divine.  You could even puree this and serve as if it were a plain red sauce if you’re trying to do things like trick haters into eating eggplant.

The point is, this combination of vegetables may not be all that much of a revelation. I realize lots of people know about ratatouille.  The thing is, I feel like any time you can effortlessly walk into your garden, pick some vegetables, and turn them into a dinner that everyone will love, it’s a major victory. When it’s a dish that can be transformed into several different meals and you end up using every last little scrap of it and wishing you’d made even more, it deserves to be on the internet.

Saucy Summer Vegetables 

You could absolutely add other vegetables, like green and yellow string beans, bell peppers, or a couple swiss chard leaves.  You could also substitute white wine for the vodka, other cheeses or cream for the chevre, or no dairy at all if you’d like to leave it vegan.

Cook Time: 20 minutes of active cooking, then 2 hours to simmer on the stove

Makes: a lot… but it really just depends how long you cook it

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 c. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 5 c. cubed eggplant (1 large Italian eggplant or several smaller Asian eggplants, either is fine)
  • 7 1/2 c. sliced summer squash (from a couple medium sized squash of different shapes and sizes, sliced into bite sized pieces)
  • 10 c. roughly chopped heirloom tomatoes, cores removed (about 5 really large tomatoes)
  • 1/2 c. roughly chopped fresh basil
  • 1 c. vodka
  • 6 oz. plain chevre

  • sea salt and black pepper, to taste

 

In a big pot, heat up the olive oil on medium heat. Add the garlic and the cubed eggplant. Give the eggplant a liberal seasoning with salt at this point. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the eggplant starts to brown nicely.  Add a little more olive oil if it starts to stick. Add the summer squash (and any other vegetables you’d like to throw in) and saute for another couple minutes.  Crank the heat up to high and get everything flaming hot for a couple seconds (purposely trying to get some slightly caramelized bits on the bottom of the pot) then quickly pour in the vodka to deglaze the pan.  Turn the heat to medium-low, and add the chopped tomatoes, basil, and chevre. If you want this to be a soup, you can add a couple cups of vegetable stock or water.  At this point, you just turn the heat to low and cook it until it’s the consistency that you want.  It will probably need to cook for at least an hour on low heat to get the flavors tasting really awesome.

Season with salt and pepper to taste, and serve… over rice/noodles/polenta/in a bowl/whatever makes you happy.

A note about tomato skins: I never peel tomatoes.  I also don’t peel carrots, potatoes, or cucumbers.  I really think the skin on heirlooms is so delicate that it’s not worth the time it takes to get it off. If you hate skin, though, feel free to blanch the tomatoes, peel them, then core them and dice them.

Shells with Roasted Summer Squash, Queso Fresco and Basil

I used to think that summer squash was gross and boring. I didn’t understand the point.  It’s not like a carrot, you know? Or a tomato.  They can kind of just be…. there, these bland tasting monstrous green things that you find hiding under huge leaves in the garden.

Over the years, though, I started discovering all these beautiful varieties of summer squash, and it completely changed my feelings about this bountiful summer vegetable.  Some of my favorites are the luminous, pale green Benning’s Green Tint Scallop from Baker Creek Seeds,  and the charming yellow and green Zephyr from Johnny’s Seeds.

My favorite squash recipe of the moment is this lightened up, summery mac and cheese.  It comes together incredibly quickly, and I really can’t get enough of this flavor combination- the nutty roasted squash, tangy queso fresco, and bright fresh basil are perfect for a hot summer night.  Of course, there’s plenty of room for playing around here; you could toss in a handful of kalamata olives, some diced heirloom tomatoes, a few leaves of kale, or some garbanzo beans.

… by the way, I end up never sharing my fresh recipes because come dinner time I don’t bother taking enough pictures to feel like it should go on the internet.   Maybe one day I’ll get around to taking a bunch of beautiful food-porny pictures of pasta and squash, but I didn’t want to wait until then to share this recipe with you.   It’s too good.

Shells with Roasted Summer Squash, Queso Fresco and Basil

Cook Time: 1 hr. (but only about 10 minutes of active cook time)

Serves: oh… 8-10?  The leftovers are great and will hold for several days in the fridge.

Ingredients:

  • 10 small to medium sized summer squash, preferably an assortment of at least two varieties, but the more the merrier.
  • 1 large onion, cut in half and then sliced into thin half-moons
  • 1/4 c. extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 lb. bag of small shell pasta
  • 24 oz. queso fresco*
  • 1/2 c. bread crumbs – whatever kind you have on hand is fine
  • 1 c. fresh basil leaves – purple looks nice, if you can find that variety

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Cut the squash into bite-sized pieces.  Put it in a 9×14″ glass casserole dish.  Combine with the sliced onion, minced garlic, olive oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast for about half an hour, or until the squash is cooked through and has nice spots of golden brown where it’s starting to caramelize.

Cook the bag of pasta. Drain, and stir into the roasted summer squash.  Crumble the queso fresco over the top of the pasta and squash.  Sprinkle the bread crumbs over the top of the cheese.  Bake for 20 minutes.

Remove from the oven and top with fresh basil leaves.  You can leave them whole or slice them into thin strips.

*Queso Fresco is a fresh Mexican cheese that has a wonderful light, tangy flavor that’s great for the hot summer months.  If you can’t find queso fresco, you could substitute any combination of mozzarella, ricotta, feta, or chevre.