Category Archives: Local foods

Tomato inspiration

What started out as a charmingly laid-back summer rushed to its end.  School has started, and with it, a tighter schedule.

The transition seems like a good time to reflect back on some of the summer projects.  It feels a teensy bit mean to do this as tomatoes wind down their season, at least in our neck of the woods.  But I think for perhaps the first time, we had our surfeit of ripe tomatoes.  Here’s a few of the simple way we used them, in addition to canning salsa, and regular doses of pico de gallo.

One of the simplest meals, and a nice breakfast or lunch is to simply saute with a couple of eggs over-easy, and top with basil and crumbled cheese (queso fresca here, or you could use feta).

 

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I made a few quick pasta sauces. This is tomatoes, onions, peppers with sausage from a local butcher I discovered!


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Several times, I threw a bunch into my Pyrex with onions, garlic, olive oil, salt, pepper and fresh herbs.  I roasted them at about 450 until they collapsed and browned slightly, then pureed them into a tomato sauce.  They turn intensely sweet and a little bit creamy.

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The abundance of tomatoes was joined by tons of peppers.  I made a quick piperade that we tossed with various things–pasta, on pizza, with chicken for fajitas.

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Tim loves bulgur or couscous salads to pack for his lunch.  Herbs, vegetables (onions, tomatoes, peppers, cucumber), cheese (queso fresca or feta), lemon or lime juice or vinegar, olive oil.

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And homemade pizza has become a standby at our place. Garlic, olive oil, thinly sliced tomatoes, garlic and herb goat cheese, kalamata olives, and fresh basil tossed on after it comes out of the oven.

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Stuffed zucchini flowers–or how to blow your five year olds’ minds and be pleasantly pretentious at the same time

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At our little community garden, someone suggested cutting some of the zucchini blossoms to cook.  I had been curious about this for quite a long time, and as no one else wanted to take them home, I cut a dozen or so to take with me.  I cut a couple from our porch garden as well.

Cooking zucchini blossoms felt very hipster to me, like I should have been wearing thick glasses and a patchwork skirt, and be living in Portland.  The kind of thing you want to put up on your blog to impress your friends with your back-to-nature attitude.  But it also boggled the minds of two five year olds (“We’re having flowers for dinner?!?  Really, Mommy?  I want to eat flowers!”), and was quite tasty.

I poked around the web for a little bit looking for recipes.  I found this recipe, and used the process (generally).  It made way too much batter for what I had (I just did the flowers, no baby zucchini), so I would play around with that if I made it again.  Rather than plain ricotta, I mixed a few things into some homemade ricotta I made and cooled earlier in the day (it’s so simple, it actually was much easier than dragging two five year olds to the grocery store to buy some).  To about a cup of ricotta, I added

1 garlic clove grated on a microplane

Salt and pepper to taste

1/2 a preserved lemon finely minced

A tablespoon or two each of minced fresh basil and mint

2 tbsp. freshly grated Parmesan cheese

The flowers tended to tear when I pulled out the stamen and also when I accidentally overstuffed some, but I tried to do it as gently as possible.  Kept the kids out of the kitchen with the hot oil.

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Realized last minute that we needed to have a bit of something on the side.  So, I quickly sliced a couple of yellow squash onto a plate, and poured some tomato vinaigrette over it.  Snipped some fresh basil over it, and sprinking some Mexican crumbling cheese (Queso Fresco) over it just because we happened to have in the house (feta would have been great).

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Our gardens: back porch

As we were looking for ways to get around the deer, I did a lot of daydreaming and searching.  I stumbled on a couple of things.

1. Grow bags.  Apparently these bags allow more air in than regular hard-sided pots, which helps the plants to breathe and to “air prune,” which helps the roots not to wither, as I understand it.  You can buy grow bags quite inexpensively, and it’s a great idea for certain sizes (a friend has a couple of huge ones that she’s using for sweet potatoes and carrots).

2. Then I found Global Buckets, a site where a couple of brothers (starting from when they were in high school) document their experiments with sustainable growing practices, especially for areas of the world where there isn’t a lot of soil or water.  And they demonstrate their results with using reusable grocery bags, made out of similar material to the grow bags, and dirt cheap (ha, ha).  I went to the thrift store and found a whole pile for about $.25/each.

3. I thought about putting the bags into larger containers, so I did another search and found suggestions for using large bins as “self-watering” containers.  Basically, the fabric of the bag can wick up water as the plants need it.

So, we planted several tomato (a couple kinds of cherry, and a patio tomato) and zucchini plants, a pepper plant, a couple of strawberries (we’re thinking it was too late in the season for those), and some green onions, Asian long beans, and carrots from seed.

Now–the system isn’t perfect, I’m still experimenting with it.  We had a few weeks of torrential downpours, which led to a lot of water-dumping.  And now it’s beastly hot, so it’s not so much self-watering as much as checking a couple of times a day to make sure there’s still water in the reservoir.  But so far, it seems successful.

Here’s when we first set it up in the middle of May

container garden, May

And here it is in June.  Our tomato plants are covered in green tomatoes, and we have some small peppers and zucchini coming in.

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Our gardens: herbs

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We have three gardens right now, and I’d like to post about each one.

Our neighborhood is covered in deer.  They’re beautiful and brave, and have no problem coming out into the open–even in the middle of the day–to grab a nibble out of our yard.

Coming out of an extremely busy semester, we just couldn’t find the time or energy to fence a garden for this year.  Instead, as deer tend to leave herbs alone, I started by making a little herb garden in a corner by our driveway (spicy orange thyme from the local horticulture club, two kinds of basil, rosemary, lavender, and oregano in another space). Along with the theme of this blog–fresh herbs tend to be astronomically expensive in the grocery store, but they add tons of flavor, so it makes sense economically and flavor-wise to prioritize growing them.

At the end of the summer, I would love to dry some of the herbs to make my own herbes de provence mix (this post features several variations).  In the meantime, fresh basil gets tossed into almost everything.  And I think that basil, rosemary, thyme and lavender would be lovely in the slow cooker ratatouille.