A Little Appetizer

Sunday was oppressively hot so naturally I decided to go the the garden and take care of a few tasks. I’d been reading up on when to harvest garlic since our plants were showing signs of slowing down. Bottom leaves were browning and drying up as were the tips of most of the rest of the leaves. I decided to take a chance and harvest the whole crop. I’d dug a couple of bulbs over the past week or so and they seemed ok. In the end, counting the two early harvests we ended up with forty-three bulbs from the forty cloves we planted. I think that’s a pretty good success rate. The three double bulbs were all the same variety.

In the process of digging them up, I nicked one of the bulbs. Since it wouldn’t keep for long in its damaged condition, I went ahead and roasted it in a little olive oil. The resulting, sweet/savory paste inspired me to make a little appetizer that ended up comprising most of my dinner. I toasted a couple slices of some grainy bread from Clasen’s which I then further browned in a pan with some olive oil. Honestly, Clasen’s makes some decent pastries, but their country style breads really are the Wonder Bread of artisanal loaves. But, they were two for the price of one so how could I pass that up? Additional heat helps.

I plucked some basil from the pot on the deck and sliced up a tomato from Flyte Family Farm. After spreading the lucious garlic paste on the bread I layed on the tomato slices, sprinkled with some basil ribbons and hit with another drizzle of olive oil. The bread was still too soft, but on the other hand it didn’t shatter and send the toppings flying. I would definitely make this again but with a heartier bread.

Making it Up as I Go Along

Last night I came back from the garden with a random load of produce and no real plan what to have for dinner. The only thought I had was that I should cook some collards because, dangit! we’ve got a lot of collards. I decided a savory, flavorful braise was probably the way to go. Scouting through the fridge and pantry I assembled some ingredients I thought might work together.

For aromatics I grabbed one of the white onions from the garden and a clove of garlic from the Westside Community Market. Braising liquid would come from the tomatoes, also from the Market, and a super special rare ingredient. The jar contains tomato pepper water. When I make salsa I like it to be chunky. The problem with that is that in processing, a lot of water is forced out of the vegetables. Now, when I open the jar, I drain the salsa and keep the flavorful liquid for other purposes such as this.

The results were pretty tasty but I couldn’t eat it all. I’m sure it will be good left over.

My second course starred fava beans. I wanted them to really be the center of attention so I paired them very simply with some French sorrel and scallions.

A lightly fried the onions in olive oil and then added the beans, tossing frequently to get them warmed–they were already cooked in the blanching/peeling process–and then allowing a little caramelization before I tossed in the chiffonaded sorrel. The herb may have cooked a little too much but it provided a tangy addition to the dish.

Tapas Night!

When no specific dinner plan is in mind and the time to dine draws near, a familiar phrase is uttered in our kitchen–“Tapas Night!” Tapas Night is our cop-out excuse for throwing together leftovers on little plates. No, wait, I take take that back. At one time that might have been true, but I dare say the co-conspirator and I have evolved as cooks and, frankly, Tapas Night has become an opportunity to try out new tastes and small bites from whatever the fridge, pantry and garden present us. Tonight’s was no New Year’s Eve, but it was still pretty special.

After work I went up to the garden to take care of a few things and brought home a bit of the produce. When I got home we talked about dinner, a dish I had an idea for, and the fact that we really didn’t have much of a plan beyond that. Activate Tapas Night. Sorry about the pictures, though. I was more into cooking than paying attention to lighting so most of these suck. I’m not a food stylist so if you have any suggestions on the light and color problems I’d be more than glad to hear them.

The dish I had planned on making was a chilled fava bean and pea soup inspired by our visit last weekend to Nostrano. My recipe was not much like theirs, but I think it showcased the flavor of the legumes. I started with the beans I had previously shelled plus the ones I picked tonight by giving them a long blanch in salted water. They then popped easily out of their skins and into a mason jar.

“Why a mason jar?” you may ask. I shall tell you. We learned recently that the base doohicky on our blender is threaded to match such jars and so is handy for making small batches of things like salad dressings and soups. Cool!

The favas were pureed with some peas (some from the garden, some from the freezer), mint, yogurt, salt and water. The result was delicious! The bean flavor was at the forefront. I served it in my grandmother’s coffee cups. More on those at a later date.

Meanwhile, on another stretch of the kitchen counter the co-conspirator was whipping up something with little potatoes left over from the Fourth’s potato salad and some cherry tomatoes from the Westside Community Market.

The par-boiled taters were given a quick roast in the toaster oven…

…while a tomato sauce was simmering on the stove.

The sauce (based on a recipe in The New Spanish Table) had a nice smoky note from the smoked paprika. We could have used some more potatoes!

Meanwhile, some less-than-baby carrots were waiting. After pruning and tying up the tomatoes, picking the favas and watering the cukes, I thinned the carrots–a task I’d forgotten to do for too long. Consequently I had a handful of carrots that were too big to throw away and just right for a simple small plate creation.

I lightly steamed them with some fresh chervil I’d picked on the outside chance we’d need it for dinner. Incidentally, I steamed them with some of the already hot water I’d used to blanch the fava beans. It had turned red! What’s up with that?

Served with a pinch of sea salt smoked over Welsh oak, they were delicious. The marked difference in flavor between the orange carrots and the yellow carrots made me wonder why anyone would bother to grow the latter, which were part of a gimmicky “rainbow carrots” seed blend.

Meanwhile the zenith of our Tapas Night feast was being prepared on the sidelines. Half of our sweet basil plants have decided to be anemic, pathetic wastes of chlorophyll. The rest, on the other hand, are growing like kudzu and threatening to flower. I reined them in by harvesting a respectable number of stems this evening. Call us unimaginative, but pesto is the first thing that came to mind.

But what to pair it with? Pasta was suggested but quickly abandoned. Why not just sauce it on some sauteed shrimp? OK. Sounds good. Better than good.

The result was a perfect blend of the sweet seafoodiness of the shrimp and the savory, herbal contribution of the basil.

Now that we’re in what I like to call “High Summer” here I’m looking forward to more spontaneous, experimental cooking events. The volume and variety of fresh ingredients that are available now is inspiring. Sometimes we like to put together a more normal main dish/side dish/salad dinner and that’s fine. But when we’ve got the time, energy, ingredients and ideas it’s way fun to just go with what we’ve got and savor the results.

Pork Satay

OK, dinner. How’d we do, locally speaking? Before dinner our happy hour was accompanied by a quick bruschetta with bread from Clasen’s Bakery, tomatoes from Flyte Family Farm, goat cheese from Dreamfarm and basil from our own garden. The pork was from Pecatonica Valley Farm, the bulk of the peanut sauce was from Yumbutter, the spices on the pork were from Penzey’s, the cucumber and tomato in the dubious raita were from Flyte Family Farm, the Hopalicious was from Ale Asylum, local producers or businesses all. The rice, yogurt and limes were, unfortunately “not from around here” (imagine that in the best redneck lawman voice you can muster.)