Seasonal Spotlight: Tomatoes

Call me basic, but I love a good late summer tomato. Cutting into it, the dark flesh bursting with flavor. Sprinkling some salt and pepper and eating while standing up in the kitchen, juice running down my chin and onto…ok maybe not juice running down my chin etc (I’ll save that for the NSFW version of this post 😏). 

One of my heirloom tomato plants

The rule of thumb for these tomatoes is to not do much with them beyond the slicing and seasoning. Of course if unable to consume as they ripen, turning into a sauce and freezing for the long dark is highly recommended.

During one of our camping trips I made a fantastic salad with some heirloom tomatoes. Super simple: Tomato slices, cantaloupe wedges, cucumber slices and torn fresh mozzarella. Everything drizzled in pesto. This came from a cookbook called The Campout Cookbook by Marnie Hanel and Jen Stevenson. I highly recommend this for glampers and gourmands. Great recipes for home cooking as well as camping! Some of the preparations I find a little too fussy for camping, but they have a lot of tips on prep that you can do at home so you don’t have to do too much at camp (when there is the real possibility that you will be too far into the Rosé to competently prepare a meal).

While the salad featured the tomato in its purest form, if you are interested in cooking it a bit more this risotto recipe is perfect. You grate some of the tomato and mix it with the risotto before you start adding the stock, so it ends up cooking with the risotto and infusing it with flavor. Then you add chopped tomatoes at the end with fresh basil and parmesan cheese. It is a true celebration of summer produce.

This year, my tomato plants produced just the right amount of fruit for salads and occasional tomato-centric dishes, but in past years, I have had an overabundance. When that happens, I always roast some up in a 325 degree oven for 45 -90 mins and with garlic and maybe some onion, extra virgin olive oil, s&p and freeze in jars for the cold winter months. It is probably for the best that I do not have that kind of yield this year because, in our current place, we have a counter depth fridge with limited freezer space and finding room for anything among all the bags of chicken bones and Parmesan rinds and half baguettes is…a…thing.

Summer is definitely winding down and though we are currently encased in a vile smoke layer, I hope to get outside later this week when things clear and harvest the last of the tomatoes. It will be bittersweet, because options for really great tomatoes are limited Fall through Spring. I will continue to enjoy them in their late summer glory though and plan for my garden next year (and my future chest freezer which I will fill with sauces and stocks).

A caprese because, gotta include a classic

Good eating, friends!

~ Hungry Ginger

The Riffing Range

 

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Photo by Spencer Imbrock on Unsplash

To riff (v) –  to perform, deliver, or make use of a riff.

Riff (n) – an ostinato phrase (as in jazz) typically supporting a solo improvisation. 

You know those recipes that you go to when you can’t even manage an internet search for “Easy dinners” and your cookbooks seem to be judging you? Those dishes that you always seem to have most of the ingredients for, but even if you don’t, there are some easy and accessible substitutions that will bring you close to your target? These recipes exist within what I call the riffing range. Recipes within this range have some common characteristics:

  1. They are relatively simple (usually 5 main ingredients or fewer, not counting seasonings).
  2. They take 30 minutes or less
  3. They don’t require any specialized skills or equipment.

So basically an ideal situation for when you just can’t even.

Riffing Range Recipes:

  • Pasta Puttanesca
  • Burritos as discussed on the blog here
  • Salad (obvious but one that must be mentioned as we are currently in the throws of summer produce season).

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Pasta Puttanesca is one of these recipes because I always have some sort of noodle product and cheese, as well as garlic and  a version of canned tomato (whole peeled, crushed, cubed and even puree will do). From there you just need an herb (parsley is traditional but basil holds its own), an olive (again, kalamata is traditional but green pimento stuffed, oil cured or even black olives are great). Capers provide a nice zing but are not 100% necessary and finally, anchovies or even sardines or tuna in a pinch. Hungry Ginger recipe here and a sardine version here. You could even go crazy if you have some eggplant on hand and ricotta salata and turn it into Pasta alla Norma.

During these strange times when going to the grocery store can feel perilous, it is comforting to have these types of recipes in your culinary tool belt and ready faster than it takes for Uber Eats to deliver a lukewarm burrito. 

I encourage you to try riffing in the kitchen. It is a  great way to practice with flavors and get comfortable cooking without a recipe. Best scenario, you will discover a new go-to recipe, worst scenario you will have used up some ingredients that may have been lingering in your pantry for too long anyway. 

Seasonal Spotlight: Asparagus Part 2

As much as I love Asparagus, it is not something that I have ever really considered growing. This Spring, however, an old acquaintance from college posted some pictures of a few beautiful spears of asparagus that he had grown, mentioning in the post that he had a bumper crop after two years of careful tending. He grew them from seed and watered them persistently at first but, once established, they don’t really need much watering. They require dedicated beds because they develop a pretty extensive root systems and they need well drained soil, so he tilled sand into the beds. The whole process seems pretty intense but it sounds like, if you are willing to put some elbow grease into it, you can get a lot of bang for your buck. With 35 mature plants, he said that he is able to harvest about 14 spears 1-2 times per week. Wow! Having recently spent $23 on asparagus, I found that pretty appealing. 

While I may not be starting asparagus production this year, I can still enjoy the season’s bounty by cooking with it in a variety of ways. So far on the blog I have discussed the salty, saucy way:

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But there are also more subtle treatments that let the asparagus’ sweetness shine through even more. The other weekend, I made an asparagus soup. The recipe is found in Roast Chicken and Other Stories by Simon Hopkinson and was super simple and quick (30 min or less). It was almost a little too simple in my opinion so I gussied it up with lemon juice, which really complimented the brightness of the asparagus, and some goat cheese which, swirled into the soup to finish, added a nice savory note. It is a great soup for spring/summer because it is amazing both hot and cold and keeps for several days, so you can make it ahead and have a very elegant lunch without trying too hard.

Asparagus Soup, from Simon Hopkinson’s Roast Chicken and Other Stories

Serves: 4 

INGREDIENTS:
1/2 cup butter
4 small leeks, white parts only, trimmed and chopped
3 cups water
1 potato, peeled and chopped
salt and pepper
1 lb fresh asparagus, peeled and trimmed
1 cup heavy cream

INSTRUCTIONS:
Melt butter and stew leeks until soft.

Add water and potato and season with salt and pepper. Cook for 15 minutes.

Chop the asparagus and add to the soup. Boil rapidly for 5 minutes.

Blend Thoroughly and pass through a china cap or medium/fine sieve.

Add cream and check seasoning.

Serve Hot or cold.

Source: Roast Chicken and Other Stories by Simon Hopkinson, 1994 (p. 13)

To close out my Asparagus triad, I made a lovely almost pasta salad with orzo, just steamed asparagus, olives, sliced bell pepper, Feta, and a lemony dressing. Courtesy of our friends at PCC, this was a perfect accompaniment to our Sunday Roast chicken.

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Seasonal Spotlight: Asparagus Part 1

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Photo by Miti on Unsplash

Without restaurants being open declaring their seasonal specials and leisurely grocery store trips, it’s easy to forget the culinary seasonality that is Spring’s gift. Morel mushrooms with their craggy domes and earthy aroma, crisp sweet peas, and of course asparagus. 

 

Out of season asparagus is an expensive and rather dingy vegetable in my opinion. In-season, locally grown asparagus, however, is slightly less expensive but miles above the more commercially produced, year-round stuff. It is sweet and bright, tender and crisp. It is great simply steamed or quickly broiled with a squeeze of lemon and some flaky sea salt to finish. It is delicious chopped up in some fluffy scrambled eggs or in a delicate soup. 

Last week’s PCC newsletter naturally featured asparagus and coincided nicely with a grocery delivery order I was putting together. I bit the bullet and ordered 2 pounds and planned out my menu. I would start on Saturday with a preparation featured in one of my favorite cookbooks, Roast Chicken and Other Stories and roll into Sunday afternoon with an asparagus soup from the same book and then, as an accompaniment to our Sunday roast chicken dinner, a bright asparagus and orzo dish from the aforementioned PCC newsletter.

The asparagus arrived…$23 worth, closer to three lbs, but I won’t complain. Then Saturday came and we had a late lunch so I planned for a late light dinner. I browsed the recipe a bit and mentally ran through the steps. It was a bit fussy, as this particular cookbook can be, but I wasn’t too worried. 

The recipe is called Delices D’Argenteuil. According to the cookbook, the Argenteuil region which is outside of Paris is famous for its asparagus. This is a pancake dish that combines the classic flavors of egg, asparagus and ham. The author calls them “pancakes” but it is essentially crepes with asparagus and prosciutto rolled up inside them. And because it is French, covered in hollandaise. Simple enough I thought to myself. Mmmm, yeah, not really.

  1. Pro Tip: When working with milk and eggs and melted butter, make sure that the milk and eggs are close to room temp before you add in the melted butter. If not, the butter will quickly solidify and thwart you as you try to pass your batter through the fine sieve required by the recipe.
  2. It has been an age since I made crepes so it took some doing to get 6 decent ones.
  3. One does not just whip up a hollandaise, as the book casually declares at one point, unless one is a chef or makes it frequently and in that case, one is probably not as healthy as one would hope to be.

I got all my little crepe and asparagus/prosciutto rolls all ready and in the oven, and  then conscripted Andrew who has a much better grasp of the whole emulsified sauces thing than I. I halved the hollandaise recipe because one stick of butter per person seemed a little wrong, especially as it was nearing midnight. We biffed the first attempt but luckily before we added the butter. The second round took nicely and we soon had a beautiful silky sauce. That was spooned over the rolls and broiled so the sauce just melted in and the resulting dish was both sweet (without any added sugar) and savory, from the prosciutto, and fresh with a nice crunch, courtesy of the asparagus. Served with a sparkling Rose cava just before midnight, totally worth the wait.

We went to bed satisfied and even a little triumphant, having done this seasonal treat justice. Next stop, Asparagus soup!

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Photo by Oklahoma Academy Country Store on Unsplash

 

Mocktails for Lazy People

It’s mid-February and many people may be welcoming this second month of the calendar year for one reason. Hint: It’s not Valentine’s Day (ugh) or the lovely weather (…rain). It’s because Dry January is now in the rear-view. We can all pat ourselves on our backs and feel accomplished that we went one whole month without the sauce. I mean, given the state of the world these days, it feels especially meaningful. I participated in Dry January and felt so good during this time that I decided to continue it on until…whenever. Some days are easier than others and when I think about all the wine in our cellar, liquor in the bar and the wine club we are still members of, I wonder, is it a greater crime to let good alcohol linger or to give my liver a bit of a challenge?

Perhaps I will come to a sort of middle ground at some point. Maybe that’s what getting old is – a meeting of two extremes at a place of mediocrity. Oh joy.

It many ways, being sober and keeping things interesting in the drinks department is more difficult than not. Previously, when I wanted something tasty to drink, I would open a bottle of nice wine, mix an extra dirty martini, or pour an interesting amaro. Googling “Mocktails” reveals a plethora of shrubs, tinctures, exotic juices and purees that one can utilize to concoct delicious libations that tickle your taste buds and do everything that a cocktail does, except lubricate social situations and ruin mornings. I am at my core a Path of Least Resistance person though, and thinking ahead enough to make a shrub or source mango puree is just not really a priority for me right now. So, in the last month, I have discovered some easy mocktail solutions that satisfy me and involve little more than pouring two liquids into a glass and maybe squeezing some citrus if I am feeling motivated.

The Lazy Ginger: Literally just ginger ale or beer and a squeeze of lime 
Make it Fancy:
Add a dash of Angostura Bitters and/or a sprig of mint

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Photo by Morton Xiong on Unsplash

The Tardy Tart: Blood Orange San Pellegrino and Unsweetened cranberry juice
Make it Fancy: Add a dash of Orange Bitters

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Photo by Sarah-Gualtieri on Unsplash

The Creamsicle: Orange Juice and Vanilla Dry Soda
Make it Fancy: Add a float of unsweetened cranberry juice

The Pickled Ginger: A replacement for my beloved dirty martini – A shot of pickle juice 🙂
Make it Fancy: Serve with a cornichon/cocktail onion/olive garnish

The Languid Bourgeois: Equal parts Lavender and Vanilla Dry Sodas
Make it Fancy: Bitch, a 4-pack of this stuff is like $8. It ALREADY fancy!

I am sure you can see a pattern start to emerge, so here are a few rules that you can endlessly riff on.

  • Bitters added to anything, even plain fizzy water makes it fancy
  • Mix sweeter sodas with unsweetened juices for a more interesting and balanced flavor profile.
  • Combine fruit juice with soda and feel healthier
  • Dry Sodas, which have very little sugar comparatively, are basically mocktails in bottle form. Nothing else needed really.
  • You can add pretty much any clear liquor like vodka or light rum to these to make them boozy.
  • La Croix has no place here because that shit is the most boring stuff I’ve tasted and if I’m not drinking booze, I’m not going to torture myself with a memory of a lime.

Cheers, friends!