Tomato and Beet Salads

Baskets of colorful summer vegetables from the kitchen garden continue to inspire experiments in the kitchen, particularly new combinations of colors, flavors and textures. 

Drawn by the similar colors of beets and tomatoes, I combined steamed and cooled red and golden beets with sliced red, orange and yellow tomatoes.  Once I’d arranged the beets and tomatoes on a platter, all the salad needed was olive oil, salt and a garnish of fresh basil.  

This new-to-me salad joined the sweet density of beets with the juicy acidity of tomatoes and the bright colors of both. Who knew beets and tomatoes would taste so good together?  Lots of people, actually, as I discovered by looking for other recipes that combined tomatoes and beets.

Many tomato and beet salad recipes begin with tomatoes and steamed, roasted or even raw beets then add goat, Parmesan or Manchego cheese, walnuts or hazelnuts, or pickled onions.  There are even recipes for the classic caprese salad with slices of cooked beets along with sliced tomato, fresh mozzarella and basil. 

Of these many possibilities, I was tempted by a raw beet and tomato salad from Food 52.  I used one red and one yellow beet in my version, julienned both on the mandoline.  Though beets are dense, by cutting them in half and feeding the root end into the mandoline, they slice easily.  When I tossed the salad for serving, the yellow beets turned a pretty orange color from the juices of the red beet.

Raw Beet & Cherry Tomato Salad with Manchego Cheese & Walnuts 

Serves 2

  • For the salad
  • small red beets, peeled
  • 1/2 cup cherry tomatoes, cut in half
  • 1/4 cup walnuts, toasted, roughly chopped
  • 2 ounces Manchego cheese shavings
  • Pinch dry oregano
  • 1/8 cup flat-leaf Italian parsley, just leaves
  •  
  • For the dressing:
  • 1 tablespoon Champagne vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • clove garlic, finely minced
  • Sea salt
  • freshly ground black pepper

Whisk together vinegar, garlic, oregano, salt, pepper.

Gradually add the olive oil until well combined.

Thinly julienne the beets using a mandoline or a very sharp knife.

Transfer to a bowl and pour the dressing on top.

Let it sit at room temperature for 15-20 minutes.

To finish off the salad, add cherry tomatoes and parsley leaves, gently mix to combine.

Adjust the seasoning and plate the salad.

For another beet and tomato salad, I created a palate of yellow and green, inspired by two of my favorite salads, Deborah Madison’s Golden Beets, Fava Beans and Mint and David Tanis’s Fresh Multi-Bean Salad with Charred Red Onion All this merger needed was tomatoes.

A collection of Touchstone Gold beets, Golden Sunray and Jaune Flamme tomatoes, Green Doctors cherry tomatoes, shelled fava beans, Monte Gusto yellow beans and Fortex green beans came together into a gorgeous salad.  I steamed the beets and boiled the beans and let both cool before combining them with the other vegetables.  Then I used the mustard vinaigrette from the David Tanis salad and some shaved Pecorino Romano cheese to finish this delicious salad.  

August is coming to an end, but there is still September for more experiments with tomatoes and beets.  And once tomatoes are gone, there will still be beets ready for new salad combinations.

Colors of the Summer Kitchen Garden

Summer harvests give many pleasures.  There are the tastes of tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, string beans and zucchini, but just as wonderful are the colors of these and other summer vegetables.  Red, orange, yellow, green, purple, intense jewel colors both in the harvest basket and the serving dish.  

Last weekend, with the first generous harvest of tomatoes, I layered slices of purple/red Cherokee Purple, orange Jaune de Flamme and Orange Paruche cherry tomato in a large bowl, garnishing them with green and purple basil.  A pleasure to create, but the bigger treat was taking this summer bounty to a dinner with friends.  

Early this week, I made a favorite zucchini recipe I first wrote about in 2011, Roasted Zucchini with Ricotta and Mint.  The occasional changes I’ve made to this wonderful recipe over the years are to omit the ricotta sometimes or substitute goat cheese and to add more fresh herbs with the mint.  This time, I omitted cheese altogether and added flower heads from dill and cilantro and leaves of green and purple basil along with the mint.  These fresh herb flavors complemented the flavors of cumin and fennel seeds and red pepper flakes roasted with the zucchini, and lemon juice added just before serving brightened all the flavors.  Finally, I steamed some of the last Sugar Snap peas and used them to crown this lovely summer salad.  

Dark red and orange beets and purple and orange carrots are kitchen garden standbys that lend themselves to salads year-round. 

 Yesterday morning, I steamed a harvest of beets and carrots, caramelized some fennel and composed a colorful cold salad that I dressed with a lemon vinaigrette.  Made with warm vegetables, this salad would add to a winter meal, but cold it was perfect for summer.  

Color in the kitchen garden isn’t only in the vegetables but also in the blooming flowers and herbs scattered throughout the garden beds.  Pausing to take in this beauty is an ongoing pleasure of the summer kitchen garden.

Be Careful What You Wish For

“Be careful what you wish for” has been running through my mind the past few days as temperatures reached eighty, then ninety, then one hundred degrees.  Who knew the first days of summer would blast in with a record heat wave?  I didn’t when I wrote in my last post: “Now that the Solstice is upon us, perhaps rain and warmth will continue, or at least warmth, and vegetables will really start to grow.”  Well, with this unusual heat the vegetables are really growing.  Tassels are forming on corn plants, zucchinis are stretching out, cherry tomatoes ripening, pole beans climbing strings, cauliflower and broccoli swelling into heads.  I’ve been out early the past few mornings harvesting anything that will suffer in the heat: radishes, turnips, rabe, cauliflower, broccoli.  And with the fridge full and the days too hot to be outdoors, I’ve been in the kitchen, trying out some new recipes.  

J. Kenji Lopez-Alt’s recipe for Roasted Cauliflower with Pine Nut, Raisin, and Caper Vinaigrette on Serious Eats makes a perfect summer salad.  I’ve made it twice, using walnuts instead of pine nuts both times because that’s what I had.  I also used the beautiful orange Flame Star cauliflowerI harvested during the heat. The only downside of this recipe during our heat wave is the 500-degree oven recommended for roasting the cauliflower.

Roasted Cauliflower with Pine Nut, Raisin, and Caper Vinaigrette


1 head cauliflower, trimmed and cut into 8 wedges

6 tablespoons (90ml) extra-virgin olive oil, divided

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon (15ml) sherry vinegar

1 tablespoon (15ml) honey

2 tablespoons capers, rinsed, drained, and roughly chopped

1/4 cup toasted pine nuts

1/4 cup raisins 

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley leaves

Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat oven to 500°F (260°C). Toss cauliflower with 3 tablespoons (45ml) olive oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Transfer to a foil-lined rimmed baking sheet. Roast until cauliflower is tender and deeply browned on both sides, about 20 minutes total, flipping cauliflower with a thin metal spatula halfway through roasting.

While cauliflower roasts, combine remaining 3 tablespoons (45ml) olive oil, vinegar, honey, capers, pine nuts, raisins, and parsley. Season dressing to taste with salt and pepper.

Transfer cooked cauliflower to a serving plate and spoon dressing on top. Serve immediately.

A recipe for broccoli salad that doesn’t call for oven-roasting or any other cooking is Melissa Clark’s Broccoli Salad with Garlic and Sesame.  Introducing the recipe, she writes: “This salad is made from uncooked broccoli tossed with an assertive garlic, sesame, chile and cumin-seed vinaigrette slicked with good extra-virgin olive oil and red wine vinegar. The acid “cooks” the florets a little as ceviche does fish. After an hour, the broccoli softens as if blanched, turning bright emerald, and soaking up all the intense flavors of the dressing. You’ll be making this one again.”  She’s right.  I made a quarter batch for lunch and then made a half batch for dinner. I’ll definitely be making it again, perhaps a full batch for guests.  It’s very pretty with just the green broccoli but also lovely with the first cherry tomatoes of the season.

Broccoli Salad with Garlic and Sesame

Serves 6-8

  • 1 ½ teaspoons red wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt, more to taste
  • 2 heads broccoli, 1 pound each, cut into bite-size florets
  • ¾ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 fat garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 teaspoons cumin seeds
  • 2 teaspoons roasted (Asian) sesame oil
  •  Large pinch crushed red pepper flakes
  1. In a large bowl, stir together the vinegar and salt. Add broccoli and toss to combine.
  2. In a large skillet, heat olive oil until hot, but not smoking. Add garlic and cumin and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Stir in sesame oil and pepper flakes. Pour mixture over broccoli and toss well. Let sit for at least 1 hour at room temperature, and up to 48 (chill it if you want to keep it for more than 2 hours). Adjust seasonings (it may need more salt) and serve.

Temperatures are easing back to early summer normal now, a relief for us and for the kitchen garden vegetables. There are still a few more vegetables in the refrigerator though, so I’ll keep looking for new ways to use them.

Recipes for Late Summer Bounty

In the abundance race playing out in the late-summer kitchen garden, eggplant, peppers, tomatoes and corn are vying for first place, easily outdistancing mid-summer’s zucchini, cucumbers and green beans.  Much as I love all summer vegetables, this quartet of deep summer flavors and rich colors is my favorite.  So are the recipes that showcase their flavors.

It’s hard to beat caponata or sheet pan ratatouille to meld eggplant, peppers and tomatoes along with onion and garlic into the perfect late summer meal.

Eggplant caponata

Ratatouille roasted on pan

Narrowing the field to peppers and tomatoes, pepper stew concentrates the flavors of sweet peppers into a warm vegetable confit of peppers, onions and tomatoes.

Pepper stew

For raw peppers alone, there is sweet pepper salad, thinly sliced peppers in a spicy red wine vinaigrette.

Pepper salad

And for the pure flavor of eggplant, there is Charred Eggplant and Tahini Spread, our go-to sandwich spread and appetizer dip.

Eggplant spread

I’ve been returning to all of these recipes in the past weeks, serving them as often as I can as a way to hold on to summer even as the daylight shifts and daylight shortens.

I’ve also been making new favorites that have been working their way up my list of best late summer recipes.  Last year, I took advantage of an abundance of sweet corn and shishito peppers to make Spicy Corn and Shishito Salad, repeating this dish as long as corn and peppers lasted.  This year, I eagerly watched the ripening corn until I could pull the first ears and make it again with the green and turning-to-red shishito peppers in the pepper bed.  The other night, we served it with fresh crab. Perfect!

Spicy Corn and Shishito Salad

corn shishito salad

YIELD 4 servings

In this recipe, shishito peppers are sliced, lightly sautéed, then tossed with raw summer corn and a cumin-lime vinaigrette for a summer salad that’s crunchy, smoky and a little spicy. Traditionally used in Japanese and Korean cooking, shishitos are small, thin-skinned green peppers that have become increasingly popular in the United States. They are typically mild in flavor, but the occasional pepper packs a spicy punch. If you can’t find them, use diced green bell peppers in their place. Finally, cilantro-averse cooks can substitute fresh mint.

3 ½  tablespoons olive oil

2  tablespoons fresh lime juice

¼  teaspoon ground cumin

Kosher salt

⅓  cup diced red onion

1  garlic clove, minced

3  cups fresh corn kernels (from 4 to 6 ears of corn)

6  ounces shishito peppers, stemmed and cut crosswise into 1/4-inch slices, or green bell peppers, stemmed and diced

1  large jalapeño, seeds and ribs removed, diced

¼  cup grated Cotija or crumbled feta cheese (optional), or to taste (goat cheese works too)

¼  cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves and tender stems, plus more to taste

  1. In a small bowl, whisk 2 tablespoons olive oil with the lime juice, cumin and 3/4 teaspoon salt. Stir in the red onion and garlic and set aside until ready to use. (Do this step first so the onions and garlic have time to mellow slightly in the dressing.)
  2. Place the corn kernels in a large bowl and set aside. In a medium (10-inch) sauté pan, heat the remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat. Add the shishitos, jalapeño and a pinch of salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until the peppers are tender and beginning to brown, 4 to 6 minutes.
  3. Add the peppers and dressing to the bowl with the corn and toss well. corn shishito salad getting shishitosAdd the cheese, if using, and toss. Garnish with cilantro.

My friend Nancy makes beautiful tomato pies, so this year I tried one, following a recipe for Heirloom Tomato Tart.  It was beautiful and delicious, fresh tomatoes melting in a custardy, basil-flavored base.

tomato tart heirloom

I’ll make it again, and I’ll also try a few more of the many tomato pie recipes out there. It’s hard to beat a simple plate of sliced tomatoes, but my husband would argue that one way to do it is to wrap those tomatoes in pie crust.

We’ll keep eating late-summer food until it runs out. And after that?  Luckily, there are fall and winter vegetables growing steadily in the kitchen garden, ready when we need them to feed us in the darker, cooler days ahead.

Heirloom Tomato Tart

Vallery Lomas

Yield: 4 to 6 serving

Time: 1 and 1/2 hours

INGREDIENTS

  •  Dough for a 9-inch single crust pie, or use store-bought, rolled into an 11-inch round (see Note)
  • 1 ½ pounds ripe heirloom tomatoes (about 4 medium)
  • ¼ cup store-bought pesto
  • ¾ cup shredded mozzarella (about 3 ounces)
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh basil
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh oregano
  • 3 large eggs
  • ⅓ cup heavy cream
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

PREPARATION

  1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Fit the rolled-out dough into a 9-inch tart pan, allowing the edges to rise about 1/4 inch above the rim of the pan. Prick the dough all over with a fork.
  2. Line the dough with aluminum foil and fill with pie weights or dried beans. Bake for 15 minutes until beginning to brown at the edges. Remove from the oven and carefully remove the foil and weights. Increase the oven temperature to 375 degrees.
  3. Meanwhile, cut the tomatoes into 1/2-inch slices. Place in a colander to drain excess tomato liquid for 20 minutes.tomato tart crust and tomatoes
  4. Spread 1/4 cup pesto in an even layer over the parbaked tart crust. Sprinkle the shredded mozzarella over the pesto. Sprinkle the fresh basil and oregano over the cheese.tomato tart gettng pesto, mozz
  5. In a medium bowl, prepare the custard: Whisk together the eggs, cream, salt and pepper until combined.
  6. Place the sliced tomatoes evenly over the cheese and herbs in overlapping concentric circles.
  7. Pour the custard evenly over the tomato slices. Swirl the pan to evenly distribute the liquid. Bake until the filling is set and won’t jiggle when shaken, about 35 minutes.
  8. Remove from the oven and let cool slightly before serving warm. This tart can also be served at room temperature.

Zucchini and Cucumbers

There’s a lot of abundance in the mid-summer kitchen garden right now.  Among all the summer favorites, the two vegetables vying for first place in this abundance are, no surprise, zucchini and cucumbers.  I’ve grown zucchini for years, specifically my favorite Costata Romanesca, and have learned that one plant is enough and sometimes even too much for two people.

Zucchini growing 2020

A single plant produces ribbed and striped squash steadily all summer.  I like to harvest them when they are about eight inches long and an inch-and-a-half or two in diameter.  Any I miss seem to double in length and diameter overnight, but fortunately, their sweet, nutty flavor and dense texture don’t diminish too much in the larger sizes.

Cucumbers are a more recent entry to my summer kitchen garden, thanks to encouragement from my friend Anne.  She recommended Marketmore which I grew last year and again this year because its sweet flavor and crisp texture are so refreshing that even cucumber skeptics like them. Like zucchini, though, cucumbers produce steadily, stealthily on their ever-expanding vines, but I’m learning how to spot the perfect 8-inch cuke under a leafy camouflage and harvest it before it reaches blimp stage.

Cucumber under vine

Two new-to-me recipes have made me glad for this abundance of zucchini and cucumbers.  My current favorite zucchini recipe is David Tanis’ Summer Pasta with Zucchini, Ricotta and Basil. It’s easy to assemble and, as a bonus, uses another of those abundant summer vegetables, basil. Tanis recommends using “the best artisanal ricotta,” but even regular store-bought ricotta works. Or, you could become an artisan and make your own ricotta. Both Melissa Clark’s very rich version of home-made ricotta and the slightly less rich recipe from the Kitchn website are easy and delicious.  And if you have access to Fresh Breeze Dairy’s superb milk, available on Lopez at Blossom Grocery, it’s sublime.

Summer Pasta with Zucchini, Ricotta and Basil

Serves 4-6

INGREDIENTS

Extra-virgin olive oil

1 small onion, finely diced

2 pounds zucchini, sliced into 1/4-inch-thick pieces (for larger zucchini, cut in half lengthwise before slicing)

Salt and pepper

2 garlic cloves, minced, or 2 tablespoons chopped green garlic

1 ounce basil, about 2 cups loose leaves

1 pound ziti or other dry pasta

8 ounces ricotta, about 1 cup

Pinch of crushed red pepper

Zest of 1 lemon

2 ounces grated Parmesan, pecorino or a mixture, about 1 cup, plus more for serving

PREPARATION

Put a pot of water on to boil. In a large skillet over medium-high heat, cook the onions in 3 tablespoons olive oil until softened, 5 to 8 minutes. Reduce heat as necessary to keep onions from browning. Add zucchini, season generously with salt and pepper, and continue cooking, stirring occasionally until rather soft, about 10 minutes. Turn off heat.

Meanwhile, use a mortar and pestle to pound garlic, basil and a little salt into a rough paste (or use a mini food processor). Stir in 3 tablespoons olive oil.

Salt the pasta water well and put in the pasta, stirring. Boil per package instructions but make sure to keep pasta quite al dente. Drain pasta, reserving 1 cup of cooking water.

Add cooked pasta to zucchini in skillet and turn heat to medium-high. Add 1/2 cup cooking water, then the ricotta, crushed red pepper and lemon zest, stirring to distribute.

Zucchini pasta with ricottaCheck seasoning and adjust. Cook for 1 minute more. Mixture should look creamy. Add a little more pasta water if necessary. Add the basil paste and half the grated cheese and quickly stir to incorporate. Spoon pasta into warm soup plates and sprinkle with additional cheese. Serve immediately.

Zucchini pasta basil

 

To keep up with the abundance of cucumbers, my current favorite recipe is cucumber and tomato salad.

Cucumber Tomato on counter

There are many versions of this classic combination, and the one I’ve been following lately is Pierre Franey’s 1988 recipe from his New York Times 60-Minute Gourmet column.  The dressing, made with red wine vinegar, red onion, chopped fresh dill, ground cumin and olive oil is the perfect match for the cucumbers and tomato.  It’s salad with a lovely echo of gazpacho.

So much to eat!  Here’s to more summer days to enjoy kitchen garden abundance!

Cucumber Tomato salad

Cucumber and Tomato Salad

Yield: 4-6 servings

Time: 15 minutes

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 medium-size cucumbers
  • 3 ripe tomatoes, 3/4 pound
  • ½ cup chopped red onion
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
  • 2 tablespoons red-wine vinegar
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • ½ teaspoon ground cumin
  •  Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

PREPARATION

  1. Peel the cucumbers and split them in half. Scoop out the seeds with a spoon. Slice the cucumbers crosswise. There should be about 3 cups.
  2. Core the tomatoes and cut them into 1/2-inch cubes. There should be about 3 cups.
  3. Put the onion, dill, vinegar, oil, cumin, salt and pepper in a bowl. Beat briskly with a wire whisk. Add the cucumbers and tomatoes. Toss well and serve.

Growing Dry Beans and Shell Beans and Green Beans Too

I’ve written lots of posts about beans on this blog, about growing, harvesting, tasting and cooking them.  With the renewed interest in growing dry beans in home vegetable gardens, I thought it would be useful to return to posts I’ve written on growing beans and see if there are any tips to share this year as bean planting time approaches.  If you already have bean seeds to plant, I hope these posts offer helpful information.  If you don’t have bean seeds for this year because seed companies have delayed order deliveries or simply sold out of beans, keep these ideas in mind for next year.  As one of my old-timer neighbors always told me, “one of the best things about gardening is that there is always next year.”

A good place to start is a post titled “Beans,” a column that I wrote for the Islands Weekly in 2010 and include in my blog under the section Green Living Columns.

Beans ColorIn it, I share my bean story and my experience with bean varieties and with planting, harvesting and eating beans.  If you’re growing beans this year, read this post and try this planting tip: “Of all the tips I’ve gotten over the years, the one that yields the best bean germination is to set the bean seed in the ground so that the “eye” or “bellybutton,” technically the hilum, is facing down.  Such precision planting is only for the fanatic home gardener, but it really does work.  And cover the just planted seeds with Reemay so that robins won’t see the germinating seeds breaking the soil, think they are worms and methodically pull each one out.”  This tip applies to planting bush and pole fresh beans too!

From this post, go to another included in the Green Living Columns, “Yes, You Can Grow Dried Beans on Lopez,” a profile of Lopezian Carol Noyes who is an even more serious bean fan than I am.

Dried Beans Color

It describes her search for dried beans that will ripen on Lopez and what she found.  Her recommendations after her 2010 research were King of the Early, Ireland Creek Annie and Yellow Indian Woman, all “good quality dried beans that are early.”  For black beans she recommended Black Coco and Hopi Black and for a white bean, she recommended Drabo.  If you’re looking to next year to start your bean garden, you’ll find that many of these and other short season varieties will be available then from local seed companies like Uprising, Adaptive and Territorial. Companies farther afield, like Seed Savers Exchange and Fedco, also offer short season varieties.

One of Carol’s and my main criteria for beans is flavor.  Part of the great flavor of a dried bean comes from the freshness of beans you grow and harvest yourself.  We agree that dried beans really are best eaten in the first year; when they get older, their flavor deteriorates.  We also love shell beans, beans that are fully developed in the pod but haven’t reached the “dry” stage.  Some years ago, we held a bean tasting to compare the many flavors of shell beans.

Bean samples

Using a flavor and texture form we’d made for the tasting, “we filled the flavor column with words like earthy, nutty, sweet, fresh, lima-like and the texture column with words like creamy, meaty, mealy, buttery, dry.  The smaller beans tended to be milder in flavor and creamier in texture.  The larger beans were more earthy, nutty and meaty.  Lighter-colored beans tended to be milder while speckled and darker-colored beans were usually richer.”  Dry beans also share this variety of flavor and texture.  If you grow fresh beans this year and find that some pods fill with seeds before you get to harvest them, try shelling out these beans and cooking them. They can be delicious! Rattlesnake Pole bean, delicious as a fresh bean, is one that I often eat as a shell bean at the end of the season.

If you’re new to the idea of shell beans, check out the 2017 post “What is a Shell Bean?

image

Dry beans make sense to most people, but shell beans often don’t; I address this confusion in detail this post.  And if you grow beans this year, hoping they will dry, but they don’t, you’ll find yourself with shell beans.  As Carol said, “I learned about them accidentally years ago when frost was threatening, the beans weren’t dry, and I ate some. Get the word out there!  They are wonderful.”  Shell beans are wonderful, and I make a point of growing both.

There is one more shell bean that I always grow in my kitchen garden, mainly because it is my husband’s favorite bean: favas.

image

“More than any other plant in my garden favas draw the “what’s that?” reaction from visitors as they point to the rangy, floppy-leafed plants with the shiny, spear-like pods protruding from the stems.”  A raw fava bean has a sharp taste with an earthy, nutty undertone, tasty with olive oil and salty cheese. Cooked, the sharp taste mellows but the earthy, nutty flavor remains.  Another reaction fava beans bring is “so much work!”  It’s true that the process of shelling the bean from the pod and then blanching it, slipping the inner bean from the outer skin is a bit time-consuming, but the result is worth the effort.

image

I used to plant fava beans in late fall, and they would overwinter and start growing early in the spring.  Then I found that I was encouraging pea weevils with this timetable, so I switched to planting them in May when the pea weevil cycle is mostly over.  The planting plan is the same. The new timetable just makes the fava bean harvest later.

Finally, fresh green, yellow or purple beans are wonderful bean additions while we wait for shell and dry beans. I mostly grow pole beans, preferring their rich flavor and texture to the milder-flavored bush green beans.  I also prefer their growth habit.  Rather than producing all at once, the way many bush beans do, pole beans produce over a longer window as the vines climb higher and higher, making more blossoms and pods.  Varieties I plant every year are Fortex, Gold of Bacau, Nor’easter, and Rattlesnake, left to right in this photo.

image

I space them 6-8 inches apart beneath strings on the bean supports and by the end of the season, I need a step-ladder to harvest them.

image

There is one bush green bean that I do grow because my friend Carol convinced me to try it: Maxibel.

image

It is very good, not quite as richly sweet as my favorite pole bean Fortex but certainly tasty, earlier and very prolific.  Planted at the same time as Fortex, Maxibel produces about three weeks ahead of Fortex and is winding down as Fortex begins to produce.

May is the month to plant beans.  I’ve planted mine and hope I’ll get good germination in this changeable weather we’re having. If you’ll be planting too, remember, keep that bean belly button pointing down!

Melissa Clark’s Sheet Pan Ratatouille

Caponata, that richly delicious blend of eggplant, peppers, onions and tomatoes, has been my go-to summer vegetable stew for years.

Eggplant caponata

Ratatouille is basically caponata with the addition of zucchini and quite a bit more olive oil, but until this year I’d never made it. Now, though, thanks to my friend Nancy and to Melissa Clark and her NYTimes “A Good Appetite” column, ratatouille is in serious competition with caponata for favorite summer vegetable stew.  The zucchini adds another surprisingly rich layer of flavor to the caponata blend, and as an additional bonus, zucchini’s place in ratatouille is a great way to use this always-abundant summer vegetable.

I had noticed Clark’s recipe for sheet-pan ratatouille in a recent column, and been intrigued by both her article title, Ratatouille, Simplified and Just as Satisfying and the opening line of her recipe description: “Cooking ratatouille on a sheet pan in the oven isn’t just easier than cooking it in a pot on the stove, it’s also better: richer and more deeply caramelized in flavor.” The “richer and more deeply caramelized” definitely spoke to me, but it was Nancy’s endorsement that spurred me to try it.  Not only is this ratatouille yummy, Nancy emailed, “The ratio of effort vs reward is heavy on the reward.”  Here, at the end of summer, with the last of the season’s harvest coming on, an easy recipe was very appealing.

Ratatouille ingredients

Clark’s method combines quick vegetable preparation and simple sheet pan technique.  Slice the zucchini into ¼ inch rounds, the onion into thin slices, the eggplant into inch-chunks and the peppers into chunks or strips.  Combine the zucchini and onion on one sheet pan and the eggplant and red pepper on the other.  Add garlic, springs of rosemary and thyme, salt and ¼ cup of olive oil to each pan and toss.

Rataouille raw on pans

Put both pans in a 425 oven and roast for 40 minutes, turning the vegetables two or three times with a spatula.  At first, the vegetables will give off liquid, then they will reabsorb it and begin to caramelize, all on the sheet pans, in the oven, out of sight.  The final time-saving step is simply scattering cherry tomatoes over the eggplant and pepper pan where they burst and melt into the caramelized eggplant and pepper, covering them in a quick and easy tomato sauce.   The additions of goat cheese and olives are delicious too, but even without them, this dish is a lovely celebration of the end of summer.

Ratatouille roasted on pan

Sheet-Pan Ratatouille with Goat Cheese and Olives

1 large onion, halved and thinly sliced

1 ¾ pounds zucchini, cut into 1/4-inch slices (about 7 cups)

½ cup plus 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for serving

6 thyme sprigs

4 rosemary sprigs

6 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled

Fine sea salt, as needed

2 pounds eggplant, cut into 1-inch cubes (about 10 cups)

2 medium red bell peppers, sliced into 1/2-inch slices (about 3 cups)

3 cups cherry tomatoes (12 ounces)

8 ounces goat cheese, crumbled

¾ cup Castelvetrano or other good-quality olives, crushed, pitted, and torn into pieces

Lemon wedges, for serving

PREPARATION

  1. Heat oven to 425 degrees, and arrange two racks in the top and bottom thirds.
  2. On one rimmed 13-by-17-inch sheet pan, toss together onion slices, zucchini, 1/4 cup oil, 3 thyme springs, 2 rosemary sprigs, 3 garlic cloves and 1/2 teaspoon salt.
  3. On a second rimmed baking sheet, toss together eggplant, red peppers, 1/4 cup oil, 3 thyme sprigs, 2 rosemary sprig, 3 garlic cloves and 3/4 teaspoon salt.
  4. Place one tray on the top rack, and a second on the bottom rack of the oven. Roast both for 40 minutes, stirring vegetables two or three times.
  5. Add tomatoes to the baking sheet with eggplant and peppers, then continue to roast until the tomatoes burst and the zucchini turn deeply golden brown, another 20 to 25 minutes. The vegetables will become very caramelized, and that’s a good thing, particularly with the zucchini and onions.
  6. Transfer zucchini and onions to the baking sheet with eggplant, mix well, and spread in an even layer (it will just fit). Drizzle vegetables with another 1 tablespoon oil, then sprinkle goat cheese and olives over the top. Roast until goat cheese is soft and warmed through, 5 to 10 minutes.
  7. Transfer vegetables to a serving platter, drizzle with a little more oil and squeeze juice from the one of the lemon wedges over the top. Garnish with basil leaves. Serve hot or warm, with more lemon wedges on the side.

 

Summer Vegetable Sauces for Pasta 

The kitchen garden is full of high-summer vegetables: tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, beans, corn, zucchini.  So many possibilities for delicious meals.  We have two favorite summer vegetable pasta sauces, Grilled Eggplant with Sun-dried Tomatoes and Goat Cheese Puree from Jack Bishop’s Pasta & Verdura, 140 Vegetable Sauces for Spaghetti, Fusilli, Rigatoni, and All Other Noodles (1996) and

Eggplant pastaFagiolini con Pomodoro, Aglio e Basilico, a saute of green beans, tomatoes, garlic and basil from Marcella Hazan’s Marcella’s Italian Kitchen (1986) that make fine use of this high-summer bounty.

Beans pasta

This week, I’ve tried two more vegetable pasta sauces that will become favorites as well. One is Zucchini Spaghetti alla Nerano from Food 52, “a legendary pasta made of spaghetti and fried zucchini was apparently invented in 1952 by Maria Grazia, who owned a restaurant in Nerano that bears her name.”  The other is Creamy Corn Pasta with Basil from Melissa Clark at the New York Times.  Each of these vegetable pasta sauces includes a puree of the vegetable as the base for the sauce, a wonderful technique that intensifies the flavor of the vegetable.  Each recipe is also accompanied by a video which illustrates this technique. I watched the videos that accompany each recipe several times before making the sauces the first time, just to get the timing sequence down.  I may watch them again the next time I make each of these delicious sauces, but after that I should be on my own.

Zucchini Spaghetti alla Nerano (Spaghetti with Zucchini)

The simple ingredients become a dish very quickly—because you must multitask. While the pasta water is boiling, the zucchini are frying. Then the spaghetti is cooking. A quick purée is made out of some of the zucchini, and then it’s all tossed together. The result is a fast, exceptionally tasty pasta dish, where the sauce clings to each strand of spaghetti. Don’t think the frying or the touch of butter will make this dish heavy—it’s not remotely, and the butter helps “mantecare”—that is, to create that clingy sauce that you need.

clove garlic

1/2 cup (125 milliliters) olive oil

small zucchini, sliced into very thin rounds (I used a mandolin on the 3mm thickness.)

Salt and pepper

11 ounces (320 grams) spaghetti

3 ounces (80 grams) grated Provolone del Monaco (or Parmesan)

knob of cold, unsalted butter

1 handful basil leaves

Zucchini and mandolin

Put a large pot of water on to boil for the spaghetti.

In a wide skillet over medium-high heat, add the garlic clove and olive oil so the mixture sizzles and the oil gets infused by the garlic. When just golden, remove the garlic and add the zucchini rounds. Toss every now and then, letting the zucchini fry away until tender but not brown.

Zucchini in skillet

In the meantime, add a teaspoon of salt to the boiling water, then place spaghetti in the pot.

Drain the zucchini on paper towels and season with a pinch of salt and some freshly ground pepper. Keep warm. Blend together about a third of the zucchini and about 1/4 cup (60 milliliters) of water from the pot of pasta—I use a glass jar with a handheld blender for this. (I used my food processor.) Pour this purée into a large serving bowl, where you will eventually add all the pasta. 

When the spaghetti is al dente (take out about 1 minute before the suggested cooking time on the packet), drain, saving about 1/2 cup of the cooking water. Toss the spaghetti into the serving bowl with the purée, the grated cheese, the fried zucchini, and the cold butter. Quickly toss, using tongs or a spatula to help you. You want spaghetti to be silky and just coated with the purée, not dry but not watery either. If it’s too dry, add cooking water a little at a time. Top with the basil leaves and serve immediately.

Zucchini pasta sauce in bowl

Creamy Corn Pasta with Basil

There’s no cream in this wonderfully summery pasta dish, just a luscious sauce made from puréed fresh corn and sweet sautéed scallions, along with Parmesan for depth and red chile flakes for a contrasting bite. Be sure to add the lemon juice and fresh herbs at the end; the rich pasta really benefits from their bright, fresh flavors. And while this is best made at the height of corn season, it’s still quite good even with out-of-season supermarket ears, or with frozen corn.

 

12 ounces dry orecchiette or farfalle

1 tablespoon olive oil, plus more for drizzling

1 bunch scallions (about 8), trimmed and thinly sliced (keep the whites and greens separate) (I used half a red onion because that’s what I had.)

2 large ears corn, shucked and kernels removed (2 cups kernels) (The ears from my kitchen garden are smaller, so I used 4.)

½ teaspoon ground black pepper, more for serving

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

½ cup grated Parmesan cheese, more to taste

⅓ cup torn basil or mint, more for garnish

¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes, or to taste

Fresh lemon juice, as needed

Corn pasta ingredientsBring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil. Cook pasta until 1 minute shy of al dente, according to the package directions. Drain, reserving 1/2 cup of pasta water.

Meanwhile, heat oil in large sauté pan over medium heat; add scallion whites and a pinch of salt and cook until soft, 3 minutes. Add 1/4 cup water and all but 1/4 cup corn; simmer until corn is heated through and almost tender, 3 to 5 minutes. Add 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper, transfer to a blender, and purée mixture until smooth, adding a little extra water if needed to get a thick but pourable texture.

Heat the same skillet over high heat. Add butter and let melt. Add reserved 1/4 cup corn and cook until tender, 1 to 2 minutes. (It’s O.K. if the butter browns; that deepens the flavor.) Add the corn purée and cook for 30 seconds to heat and combine the flavors.

Reduce heat to medium. Add pasta and half the reserved pasta cooking water, tossing to coat. Cook for 1 minute, then add a little more of the pasta cooking water if the mixture seems too thick. Stir in 1/4 cup of the scallion greens, the Parmesan, the herbs, the red pepper flakes, 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Sprinkle with fresh lemon juice to taste. Transfer to warm pasta bowls and garnish with more scallions, herbs, a drizzle of olive oil and black pepper.

Corn Pasta sauce cooking

 

Fava Bean Salads

Friends who like fava beans joined us for dinner this week and I took the opportunity to explore new ways to serve these rich, flavorful beans.  My fava crop is a little late this year because I planted late so the mid-August timing for a fava-themed dinner was good.

My quest for new recipes began, as it sometimes does, with a search of the New York Times Cooking site.  Entering “fava bean recipes” yielded lots of inspiring titles and photos of fava bean purees, salads, pasta sauces, soups, stews and risottos, and, most useful to me, names of the recipe authors so I could go to cooks whose recipes I’ve liked in the past.  David Tanis, Melissa Clark and Martha Rose Shulman are three favorites.

Imagining salads for this summer meal, I was drawn to David Tanis’s recipe for Burrata With Fava Beans, Fennel and Celery as well as to a favorite Tanis recipe I’ve made before: Fresh Multi-Bean Salad with Charred Red Onion.  Offering more inspiration, Martha Rose Shulman’s Green Bean and Fava Bean Salad With Walnuts also combines favas with green beans, and her Rainbow Quinoa Salad With Fava Beans and Herbs suggests a tasty pairing of favas and quinoa.

As often happens when ingredients overlap among recipes, I started combining recipes. Inspired by Shulman’s pairing of favas and quinoa, I decided to serve Tanis’s Fresh Multi-Bean Salad with Charred Red Onion on a bed of red quinoa. Another change I made to the Tanis recipe was to sauté the fava beans in olive oil, garlic and chopped rosemary until they were soft rather than adding them raw.  I like the sharp, earthy flavor of raw fava beans but sautéing brings out a deeper richness that worked well with the sweet bean flavors of the cooked pole beans.

Fava, beans, charred onions

As also often happens, I substituted some ingredients.  I wanted to make Tanis’s Burrata With Fava Beans, Fennel and Celery, but I don’t have any celery in my kitchen garden. Remembering a salad of Golden Beets with Fava Beans and Mint I’d made from from Deborah Madison’s Vegetable Literacy, I substituted yellow beets from my kitchen garden for the celery, peeling the beets, cutting them into ½ inch cubes and steaming them.  I left the favas raw for this salad.  The combination of the slightly bitter raw favas with the deeply sweet yellow beets and finely sliced sweet fennel was perfect dressed with a lemon vinaigrette and tossed with the creamy burrata.

Fava, beet, fennel salad

Finally, beginning the meal with favas, I made a simple fava bean purée for an appetizer, serving it with raw sweet peppers for dipping. I followed Alice Water’s recipe from Chez Panisse Vegetables.

Fava puree and peppers

3 lbs. fava beans

1/2 to 3/4 cup olive oil

salt and pepper

2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped fine

1/4 bay leaf                       

1 small sprig rosemary           

1 sprig thyme

1/2 lemon

    1. Shell the favas discarding pods. Boil a large pot of water and blanch the favas for 1 minute. Drain and plunge in ice water. When cool pop the favas out of their skins.
    2. Warm 2/2 cup olive oil in a sautee pan. Add beans and salt. Add garlic, the herbs sprigs and a splash of water. Cook favas at a slow simmer stirring occasionally 30 minutes till they are completely soft. Add a splash of water if the beans begin to dry out.
    3. When they are done discard the herbs and mash the beans to a paste with a potato masher or puree in a food processor. Taste for seasoning and add lemon juice. If paste is at all dry add additional olive oil. Oil is an important part of the flavor so don’t be stingy. Serve at room temperature with slices of grilled baguette.


While these fava salads would make fine meals on their own, for this shared meal they complemented our friend Anne’s very delicious poblano chili relleno, stuffed with potato and cheese and topped with a spicy tomato sauce, all the vegetables in it from her garden.  High summer gardens are great inspirations for dinners with friends and we’re looking forward to more of these dinners as late summer slides into autumn.

 

The First Eggplant of Summer

I was checking the eggplant in the plastic greenhouse the other day, hoping I’d see a few small, dark purple vegetables forming among the lavender blossoms of the Galine and Diamond plants.  Instead, to my great surprise, I found, nestled in the mulch beneath the robust green plants, some really big eggplant.  Yikes!  I know it’s been warm, but I really hadn’t expected eggplant this soon. Dinner suddenly included eggplant.

Eggplant growing

Eggplant counter

Harvesting five big purple globes and bringing them to the kitchen, I turned the oven on to 475 and cut the largest two lengthwise into wedges.  I arranged the wedges on a sheet pan, brushed them generously on all sides with olive oil, sprinkled them with salt and pepper and, when the oven reached 475, I put the pan in the oven.

Eggplant wedges raw

Eggplant roastedTwenty minutes later, the wedges had softened into creamy, sweet and slightly smoky eggplant flesh.

Half of them went onto our dinner plates, a perfect side dish for basil pesto on linguine, sugar snap peas and Orange Paruche cherry tomatoes.  We ate dinner outside, celebrating the start of high summer meals.

Eggplant dinner

I put the remaining roasted eggplant into the Cuisinart to make a spread I discovered a few years ago.  This Charred Eggplant and Tahini Spread is one of the best reasons to grow eggplant.

Charred Eggplant and Tahini Spread

http://www.bonappetit.com/recipe/charred-eggplant-and-tahini-spread

  • 1 large eggplant, cut lengthwise into quarters
  • ¼ cup olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 clove garlic finely grated
  • 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon tahini (sesame seed paste)
  • ¾ teaspoon ground cumin

     Toasted sesame seeds

 Preheat oven to 475°. Place eggplant on a baking sheet and toss with ¼ cup oil; season with salt and pepper. Roast until lightly charred and very tender, 20–25 minutes; let cool slightly. Chop eggplant (skin and all) until almost a paste.

Mix eggplant in a medium bowl with garlic, lemon zest, lemon juice, tahini, and cumin; season with salt and pepper. Drizzle with oil and top with sesame seeds.  Makes 1 and ½ cups.

Eggplant spread

There are a lot of other reasons to grow eggplant. From the remaining eggplant from this first harvest I made grilled eggplant, dried tomato and goat cheese pasta sauce from Jack Bishop’s Pasta & Verdura, 140 Vegetable Sauces for Spaghetti, Fusilli, Rigatoni, and All Other Noodles (1996).

Bishop 1

Bishop 2

Bishop 3

Eggplant pasta

Looking ahead to more eggplant harvests, there’s eggplant pizza, our favorite summer pizza, and for a dinner party or even just the two of us, Ottolenghi’s eggplant stuffed with lamb and pine nuts from his cookbook Jerusalem (2012).  Finally, as the tomatoes and peppers ripen, there is caponata, the perfect summer stew.  And with any excess eggplants, I’ll keep making the Charred Eggplant and Tahini Spread, great on sandwiches for lunch, on crackers or appetizers or simply by the spoonful.