Tag Archives: vegetables

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Hold the Sauce

During the cold winter months, we make homemade pizza almost every Sunday evening.  This time of year, however, the heat of summer generally keeps us from cranking up the oven to the necessary 550 degrees Fahrenheit.  Of course, there’s an exception to every rule, and the surplus of ripe, miniature tomatoes at the farmers market these days triggers the exception to our No-Homemade-Pizza-in-Summer rule.  Fresh mozzarella, sharp garlic, sweet onion, and minty basil are almost mystical compliments to the sweet and savory little tomatoes.  But, please, hold the sauce.  With tomatoes like these, sauce would only interfere with the magic.

Hold the Sauce

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Eating Garbage

A couple of years ago I learned that 40 percent of the food in the United States goes uneaten — more than 20 pounds per person every month.  According to the NRDC, reducing that waste by just 15 percent could feed more than 25 million Americans every year, no small feat when one in six Americans is unsure of where their next meal is coming from.

With that in mind, I have challenged myself to eat what I may previously have tossed in the trash or composting buckets.  Beet greens now get sautéed, mushroom stems get turned into soup stock, and squash seeds get dried and toasted. 

A few weeks ago, as I was enjoying the first watermelon of the season, I recalled eating watermelon rind pickles as a child.  They came from the grocery store in tall, skinny glass bottles and, because they were expensive, they were a once or twice a year treat.  I loved them.

This resurrected memory prompted me to ask myself why I was throwing out the rind.  Why wasn’t I turning it into the beloved pickles of my childhood?  After trying a recipe sent to me by a friend, I know I’ll never make that mistake again.   Eating “garbage” can be indescribably delicious!

Eating Garbage

 

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Size Doesn’t Matter

New York and New Jersey farmers are seem to be geniuses when it comes to growing foods that one doesn’t associate with the northern half of the East Coast.  One of those foods is artichokes.  Native to the Mediterranean region and climate, most artichokes grown in the United States come from California.  The East Coast variety are much smaller than those grown on the West Coast, but they’re every bit as delicious.  In fact, because their chokes — the fuzzy, inedible part at the top of the heart — is underdeveloped, they’re far easier to clean and eat than their western cousins . . . proving once again, perhaps, that size doesn’t matter.

Tiny Artichoke

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Surprise!

I was away from home last week, working on the other side of the country.  When I returned, a visit to my farmers market was very near the top of my “To Do” list.  Once there, I found the summer produce season at its peak, and amaranth, corn, lemon cucumbers, sweet onions, green garlic, chilis of every variety, baby eggplant, carrots, zucchini, okra, edamame, sugar snap peas, English shell peas, cranberry beans, watermelon, cantaloupe, peaches, cherries, blueberries, and countless varieties of tomatoes, all found their way into my cart.

I still have no idea what I will do with most of it, but I can hardly wait to find out.  I love a surprise!

Surprise!

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Shell Peas Shelled

I love eating fresh English shell peas.

And when I see them at the farmers market,

I always buy a big bagful.

Then I get them home.

And I look at them.

And I remember how long it will take to shell them all.

And I wonder what I was thinking when I bought so many.

But I sit down at the table,

Or I stand at the kitchen counter,

And I start removing the tiny peas from their protective shells.

And it never really takes as long as I fear.

And when I’ve blanched them in salt water,

And tossed them in a little butter,

And popped them in my mouth,

I remember exactly what I was thinking when I bought so many.

Shell Peas Shelled

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Edible Stonecrop

One of the things I love most about going to the farmers market is discovering new things to eat.  My latest discovery comes courtesy of Lani’s Farms, which sells edible stonecrop, commonly known to the average gardener as “sedum.” 

Slightly lemony and a bit astringent, these beautiful little plants are a surprisingly pleasant addition to any salad, and make a striking garnish on any fresh fish filet.  While not inexpensive, it takes only a few tiny plants to make your dinner guests wonder aloud, “Can you eat these?” And, when they try them and proclaim them delicious, you can enjoy hearing their praise as much as you enjoy eating the stonecrop.

Stonecrop

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Less Can be More

Once upon a time, I would spend days preparing a dinner for friends.  A typical meal at my home included six courses served on my great-great grandmother’s bone china, and could take three hours to eat.  I spent more time working in the kitchen during dinner than I spent with my guests at the table.

When I moved from a single-family home in Chicago to a small New York City apartment, I left my heirloom china behind in my brother’s custodial care for my niece. As a result, my friends  now enjoy eating simpler dinners in my home, and I enjoy having more time to spend with them during the meals. 

The focus of a meal is no longer on the culinary skills I worked so hard to acquire and perfect.  Instead, our attention is on the incomparable produce and heirloom grains grown by local farmers, and the fresh fish or succulent piece of meat sold to me that morning by a local fisherman or rancher.  After all, a good cook without talented and dedicated farmers is like a writer without an alphabet.

It took me years of study and decades of practice, but I now understand that — more often than not — less can be more.

Swordfish & Sorrel Sauce

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Ugly Kohlrabi

When I was a kid, my father would periodically decide to plant a vegetable garden.  He didn’t plant one every year, and he didn’t even plant it in the same spot in our suburban yard each year.  But, when he did, it always meant we’d soon face the prospect of weeding, watering, and eating things we’d never heard of before.

The first year, he disassembled our swing set so that he could plant his crops and, needless to say, this didn’t endear us to his farming endeavors.  In subsequent years, though, he’d find a place along some ratty-looking shrubs, dig up the sod, and stick some stakes in the dirt.  Then he’d plant lots of seeds, most of which would grow into the mysterious produce we’d later come to know as “slimy okra,” “crazy kale,” and “ugly kohlrabi.” 

Why, I wondered, couldn’t he just be a normal dad and plant normal things like carrots, corn, and tomatoes?  Why couldn’t he just leave the science experiments to Dr. Frankenstein?  Nonetheless, despite the still-apt monikers, I learned to love the varied look, feel, and taste of vegetables rarely found on the plates of typical Midwestern kids during the Vietnam war era

Today, I find myself smiling as I think back on those gardens.  And I’m grateful to have been part of a generation that was required to clean our plates, no matter what kind of mysterious produce found its way there.

Ugly Kohlrabi

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Rhubarb Season

We can have a legitimate discussion about whether rhubarb should be classified as a fruit or a vegetable, and whether is it best used in sweet or savory dishes.  But please don’t try to convince me that the arrival of rhubarb season isn’t a reason to celebrate.  If you do, I won’t invite you to the party.

Rhubarb Season

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Grabbin’ the Good Stuff

When I hear adults say, “The kids won’t eat that,” I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.  My own experience of children — including this young man I came across unexpectedly (to both him and me) at the New Amsterdam Market — rarely bears that out.  But for those adults who are still in doubt about the adventurousness of children’s palates, perhaps the key is to stop telling children that they have to eat their fruits and vegetables.  Instead, tell them that they can’t have any until adulthood.  Then stand back, camera in hand, and watch what happens.

Grabbin' the Good Stuff

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Teal Eggplant

I don’t think I ever ate eggplant as a child.  If I did, it was probably tucked inside a casserole dish that vaguely resembled an Italian entrée.  Now, the end of every summer brings a bounty of eggplant of all different sizes, shapes, and colors.  One of my favorites is this oblong, teal variety, which I know only as “that oblong, teal variety.”  I guess I don’t know it’s proper name because, whenever I see it, I can’t take my attention away from its beauty long enough to ask.

Teal Eggplant