Tomato season is at its peak, cucumbers still hang heavy on their vines and peppers of all colors are finally getting the long hours of sun and heat they need to fully ripen their fruit. Cookbook author Nancy Harmon Jenkins posed the perfect solution when I found myself with all those ingredients just the other day:
"What better excuse for a bowl of chilled gazpacho for lunch? Or dinner, or an afternoon snack for that matter? In Andalusia, where this healthy bowl originates, they keep a big pitcher of gazpacho in the refrigerator at all times, ready for anyone who feels the need for a quick pick-me-up."
The tomatoes I had from my neighbor Bill's large garden were large and perfectly ripe, begging to be savored fresh rather than cooked, while their juices and flesh were at their sweetest. Bill had also gifted me a cucumber at the same time, and I had a few peppers from my CSA share.
Call me unimaginative, but those perfect tomatoes were golden yellow, so the idea of making a gazpacho was a slap-my-forehead revelation since I'd only had it with the usual red tomatoes. Of course it was divine, and couldn't have better suited the moment. Nancy has a recipe that I'll be trying soon, but here's a slightly simpler version based on Jim Dixon's from years ago.
5 to 6 medium tomatoes, roughly chopped 1 small cucumber, peeled 1 mild green chile (Anaheim or, for a little more kick, poblano), seeded and chopped 1/2 yellow onion, roughly chopped 2 cloves garlic 1-2 Tbsp. white or red wine vinegar, to taste 1/2 c. olive oil Salt to taste
Put tomatoes into the blender. Add the rest of the ingredients and pulse until the ingredients begin to emulsify, stopping to push the tomatoes down if they aren't moving. When they're mostly blended, add the vinegar and salt and blend until very smooth. With the motor running, slowly add the olive oil until completely emulsified. Pour into a glass or ceramic container and chill for one hour. If it's too thick to pour, add a little water, though it should be served fairly thick, not runny.
It's summer and the first line and troll-caught albacore of the season are being brought in by local fishing families right off our coast. Beans and cucumbers are being picked from their vines and potatoes and carrots are being pulled from the earth. Hens are laying eggs as if in competition with one another for the most prolific producer in the henhouse.
Summer also means temperatures are climbing, and the less time you have to spend sweating over the stove, the better. Which all adds up to a big platter of Salade Niçoise for dinner, one of the most satisfying summer meals I can imagine.
Or, as my hero Julia Child noted:
“A bountiful arrangement in bowl or platter is so handsome to behold that I think it a cruel shame to toss everything together into a big mess. A careful presentation means more work, but it’s easily manageable when you ready each of the numerous ingredients separately, which you can do well ahead. Season each just before assembling and serving, and you will have the perfect Salade Niçoise.”
The recipe below is a guide, since the ingredients of your salad will depend on what's available and in season, and amounts will vary depending on how many people are at your table. Ms. Child recommends a simple olive oil and lemon dressing, with or without garlic, but I like to add fresh chopped herbs and Dijon mustard, which I like to think Julia would approve of, too.
Oregon Salade Niçoise
For the dressing: 1/2 c. olive oil 1/4 c. lemon juice 1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard 1 medium clove garlic, crushed 1/4 c. chopped green herbs like tarragon, chives, parsley, lovage, oregano, etc. Salt and pepper to taste
For the salad: Oregon albacore loin Green beans (whole haricot verts or sliced romano beans of any color) Potatoes (red or yellow or fingerlings) Hard-boiled eggs Cucumbers, sliced Tomatoes, in wedges Roasted carrots, if you have them, or julienne and blanch raw carrots with the beans
To make the dressing, take any tightly lidded container (I often use an empty, clean salsa container, or a lidded glass jar), put all the ingredients into it, put on the lid and shake like the dickens over the sink, in case, as once happened, the lid wasn't as tight as I thought and I ended up dressing the kitchen instead of the salad. Give one last shake just before serving and pour into small pitcher for use at the table.
Slice and blanch the beans and julienned carrots until almost tender (this is a salad, after all). Quarter eggs and arrange with other ingredients around the albacore loin.
Sear the albacore loin over a hot fire on all three sides; check the interior temperature with an instant-read thermometer and pull it off the fire when the interior reaches 90 degrees; cover with aluminum foil until it's time to serve. Cut into 1-inch slices and lay on your platter.
Drizzle dressing over the salad ingredients or have each person serve themselves from the platter and dress their own salads to their liking.
Note: Feel free to add or subtract ingredients with whatever's in season and use any leftover roasted root vegetables or peppers and the like. However, be aware that Julia insisted it wasn't a Niçoise without tuna, tomatoes and potatoes. (Just so you know.)
If Josh Alberg of Rubinette Produce has any advice for the height of the summer produce season, it's don't procrastinate.
"When the season starts, get your favorites early," he said. "Because if you wait, they'll be gone."
The time is now to get your heirloom tomatoes at the farmers' markets, and there's a plethora of peppers, eggplant, beans, corn and peaches tumbling in from local farms. Strawberries and cane fruit like raspberries and blackberries are nearly done, as are summer squash and cucumbers, so if you haven't got around to making your grandma's favorite dill pickles yet, you'd best get cracking.
Alsberg shook his head when talking about this summer's weather.
"It's been kinda strange," he said, recounting cooler temperatures early in the summer that got everything off to a late start, with some early crops experiencing a short, not-very-robust season. Tomatoes were delayed early on, and then 100-degree days like those we've had lately "put the kibosh" on some varieties that are normally prolific in midsummer, so expect a slightly shortened season.
He may have caught my sharp intake of breath, since he quickly reassured those of us who might be expecting to preserve a couple of hundred pounds to last us through the winter. Late summer and early fall cooking varieties like Romas and Astianas should be fine, as long as temperatures remain moderately warm and we don't get early rains. Whew!
Ground vegetables like carrots, beets and turnips are plentiful, as are greens like kale and chard. As mentioned above, pepper people will find piles of Jimmy Nardellos, bell peppers in all colors and Italian sweet peppers at the markets for the next month, and peaches, nectarines and corn should be around for that long, too.
Plums and table grapes are just getting started, as are local melons, and kiwi berries and ground cherries should start appearing soon. We can also look forward to freshly dug potatoes and onions by the end of the month, as well as winter squash like delicata and butternuts. Local apples and pears will be arriving from orchards by the end of September, though Alsberg said he's seeing a few local Gravensteins listed on his farmers' hot sheets, along with Zestar, Ginger Gold and Pristine varieties.
As usual with apples, though, Alsberg—whose social media handle is "fruit monkey"—warns that most of the varieties you'll see at the big grocery store have been in storage since last November or imported from places like Australia, Chile or Argentina, so make sure you check the country of origin if you want fresh, crisp apples for your table. He winced when mentioning one in particular, called Williams Pride, describing it as "mushy and mealy." Blech!
There are several homes in our neighborhood whose residents (current or former) planted grapes that, every spring, faithfully start producing leaves and vines that twine themselves around fences, trees or any stationary object, sporting clusters of teensy, pinhead-sized baby grapes. Most are table types, deep purple and seeded—contributor Anthony Boutard calls them "fecund"—with a few that are seedless, though their specific varieties have been lost to time.
So it was fortuitous that my friend, gifted cook and writer Denise della Santina, called and asked if I wanted to get together to make Greek-style stuffed grape leaves, the kind her mother used to make. Now, Denise's mother wasn't Greek, but she and Denise's father lived a peripatetic life, traveling extensively all over Europe with their three kids in tow, moving back and forth across the country as easily as they traversed oceans, eating and drinking and immersing themselves in the places they found themselves. It was almost the exact opposite of my own WASP-ish, Oregon-centric upbringing.
"We lived in Greece for five-plus years, so our Greek street cred is far better than elsewhere," Denise said. "Mom learned from the village ladies even before she could speak the language."
Am I envious? Why yes, yes I am!
Denise said she'd get the supplies for the stuffing if I could find some grape leaves. I said I'd do my best.
I arrived at her house the next morning with a shopping bag stuffed full of leaves of various sizes, which turned out to be helpful, since we could use the smaller ones for stuffing and the larger leaves for covering the rolls while they cooked. She trimmed the stems and softened them in a pot of salted water on the stove while I chatted from the doorway—pandemic, remember—then brought them out to the deck where I proceeded to separate and dry the leaves.
Ever the efficient project manager, Denise had cooked and cooled the onions the night before so she could combine them with the meat and spices just before I arrived. In proper socially distanced fashion we set up our work stations at opposite ends of the long table, scissors at the ready should we need to clip some tough leaf veins and a big pot of the meat-rice mixture each.
She showed me how to lay the leaf with the underside up and the stem end toward me, and to place a small amount—a tablespoon or less—at the stem joint, folding up the leaf ends to cover it. Then, like a burrito, the sides were folded in and the whole thing was rolled up tightly.
For the next ninety minutes or so we sat and rolled (and rolled some more), eventually filling up our trays with the shiny packets as we caught up on friends and family and summer events. It put me in mind of the kind of repetitive, calming work that women in my family did when I was growing up, sharing stories and gossip while snapping beans or doing dishes—you wash, I'll dry—or folding clothes fresh off the clothesline.
It was a gift of near-normalcy, a small break, a time out that I sorely needed. Not to mention that dinner was done, a bonus in itself! Thanks, my dearest Denise.
Della Santina Stuffed Grape Leaves
For the stuffing: 60-75 grape leaves, about 6" in diameter* 3 onions, minced finely (a processor works for this) 2 lbs. ground lamb (or a combination of beef and lamb) 1/2 c. uncooked long-grain rice 1/4 c. mint, chopped fine 3 Tbsp. dried mint (dried plus fresh gives added dimension) 3 Tbsp. olive oil (more if your meat is lean) 1 tsp. salt to start and generous grinding of pepper (see note)
For cooking the stuffed grape leaves: 1 c. water (or so) 1/2 c. lemon juice 1/2 c. olive oil
If you're using freshly picked leaves, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. While it is heating, prepare the leaves by snipping off the stems and any thick vein ends. When the water boils, place the leaves in the boiling water and simmer for five minutes until softened and pliable (they'll turn dark green). Drain in a colander and run cold water over them until they can be handled.
Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium-high heat and sauté the onions until they're translucent and tender. Cool to room temperature.
While onions cool, take the blanched leaves and pat them dry with paper towels. In a large mixing bowl, combine the cooled onions with the meat, mint and olive oil and some salt and pepper.
NOTE: To test for salt, pepper and mint, heat a small frying pan over medium-high heat and brown a small amount of the meat before you add the uncooked rice; rice will dilute the saltiness. Taste and adjust salt.
Once you're satisfied with the salt level in the meat mixture, mix the uncooked rice into the meat.
Take one leaf and lay it with the shiny side down and the veined underside up, with the base of the leaf toward you. Place a tablespoon (or less if it's a smaller leaf) of the meat mixture at the base near the joint. Bring the bottom lobes up over the meat and fold in the sides (like a burrito). Then roll the packet up toward the point of the leaf. It should make a tight packet. Repeat until you've used all the meat. At this point you can store the stuffed grape leaves in the refrigerator until you're ready to cook them.
To cook the stuffed grape leaves, pour three tablespoons of olive oil into a large Dutch oven. Place the stuffed leaves into the pot, stacking them in layers if necessary. Pour the water, lemon juice and remaining olive oil over them. The water should barely cover the stuffed leaves. If it doesn't add more. Top with more leaves (fresh are fine, too) and cover with a plate to hold it all down.
Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer and cover the pot with a lid. Cook for 45 minutes to an hour until the rice is done (test at 45 minutes and add time until meat is cooked, rice is very soft and the leaves are tender). Transfer to a platter, bathe in more lemon juice and olive oil and sprinkle with salt.
You'll also want to consider making tzatziki, a simple combination of yogurt, grated cucumber and crushed garlic.
* You can also use the preserved grape leaves that come in a jar. There are approximately 55 leaves in a 2-lb. jar.
In a moment of synchronicity, I got Jim Dixon's newsletter from Real Good Food within minutes of coming home from picking a bunch of beans in my neighbor's garden. (And, yes, I did get his permission!) Not only is this salad deeply delicious and satisfying, the story of Michael Twitty and his passion for correcting the myths regarding the origins of our foodways is equally filling. Thanks, Jim, for sharing this.
Michael Twitty’s green beans are loaded. The handful of ingredients add flavor, but these green beans also provide a historical link to Twitty’s enslaved ancestors, who grew vegetables to survive and used whatever they had to coax out flavor. Delicious food brings joy, and Black joy is resistance. There’s a lot to think about when you make this salad.
Twitty is an author, teacher, and culinary historian. He explores culinary injustice at Afroculinaria and, in the Washington Post, described himself as “four-time blessed: large of body, gay, African American and Jewish.”
His 2013 open letter to Paula Deen over her long history of racist practices at her restaurants brought him national attention, but Twitty’s work toward a deeper understanding of Black history and the way we eat makes his voice even more important.
There’s not enough room [here] to cover it all, but this article provides a good starting point.
Michael Twitty's Green Bean Salad
1 1/2 lbs. fresh green beans, trimmed and snapped 1 1/2 tsp. salt 4 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil 4 Tbsp. lemon juice* 2 Tbsp. flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped 2 cloves of garlic, sliced into thin slivers 1 Tbsp oregano 1/2 tsp. Okinawan brown sugar [or plain brown sugar] 4 Tbsp. red and orange bell peppers cut into small cubes
Place green beans in a large pot of boiling water seasoned with sea salt. Have at the ready a colander and a large bowl full of ice and water. Cook for 5 minutes then immediately drain and plunge into the ice bath until the beans are barely warm.
Make the vinaigrette while the green beans are in the ice bath. In a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil, lemon juice, oregano, garlic, herbs, salt and sugar.
Place the green beans in a non-reactive mixing bowl, add the chopped peppers, splash on the vinaigrette, mix well for a minute or two, and then allow the green beans to marinate in the dressing for about an hour or so. Toss well before serving.
We're heading into the height of summer and, along with an avalanche of fruit and vegetables cascading in from local fields, we're also going to be hitting some mighty warm temperatures in the coming weeks. Gorgeous weather? You bet! But 100 degrees is not the time to be pulling out the braising pot or turning on the oven.
And while grilling is a good solution to beating summer's heat when you need to put dinner on the table, it's good to vary the rotation, too. Which is where a back-pocket selection of simple dinner salads can come into play.
You don't have to heat up the house with hours of cooking, since most grains only need a half hour or so to get tooth-tender. Even soaking a pound of beans overnight then simmering them for an hour first thing in the morning can give you enough for a week's worth of meals.
I've put together a list of my favorite summer salads to keep your cool during the upcoming summer weather. Any would make a filling dinner all their own, and a couple could be a terrific complement to whatever you've got grilling.
Leftover Salmon Salad
2-3 c. leftover salmon, flaked 1/2 med. bulb fennel, sliced thinly 1 Tbsp. fennel fronds, chopped 2 med. plums, halved and sliced thinly 1-2 Tbsp. capers 2 green onions, sliced thinly 3 Tbsp. pine nuts, toasted 2 Tbsp. olive oil Juice of 1/2 lemon, added to taste Salt, to taste
Put salmon, fennel, fennel fronds, plums, capers, green onions and pine nuts in large mixing bowl. Drizzle olive oil over the ingredients and add half of lemon juice. Toss gently to combine but don't break up the salmon too much. Adjust lemon juice and add salt to taste.
This would be a great lunch salad or light entrée served on a bed of fresh-from-the-garden (or farmers' market) lettuce. It would also be terrific combined with pasta or a cooked grain like farro, barley or parched green wheat (frikeh).
15-Minute Ramen Noodle Salad with Kimchi
For the dressing: 1/3 c. canola or peanut oil 2 Tbsp. rice vinegar 1 Tbsp. garlic 2 tsp. tamari 2 Tbsp. white miso 1 tsp. gochugaru (optional) 1 tsp. roasted sesame oil
For the salad: 12 oz. fresh ramen noodles (not dried) 1/2 c. kimchi, chopped 1 Persian cucumber (can substitute 1/2 c. chopped English cucumber) 1 Tbsp. chopped chives for garnish
Bring a pot of water to rolling boil.
While the water is heating, make the dressing by placing all ingredients in a blender and blend at high speed until well puréed.
When the water comes to a boil, gently pull apart ramen noodles while adding them to the water. Tease the strands apart with chopsticks while the water returns to a boil and reduce heat to simmer. Cook for two minutes, stirring occasionally to keep noodles from clumping. When they're done, drain them in a colander and rinse in cold water to stop them from cooking further.
Chop kimchi into bite-sized pieces. Quarter the cucumber and slice crosswise into 1/8” slices. Place noodles, kimchi, cucumber and dressing in serving bowl and combine. Garnish with chives.
Corn Salad with Avocado Crema
For the corn salad: 1 15-1/2 oz. can black beans, drained and rinsed 4 ears corn, kernels sliced fresh off the cob 1/2 red onion, halved lengthwise and slivered crosswise 1/2 large cucumber, seeded and diced, or two small Persian cucumbers, chopped 1 large ripe tomato, chopped (about 2 c.) 1 Tbsp. fresh-squeezed lime juice 1 Tbsp. olive oil Salt to taste
For the avocado crema: 1 c. milk 1 clove garlic 2 avocados 2 Tbsp. lime juice 1 c. sour cream Salt to taste
In a large mixing bowl combine the black beans, corn kernels, onion, cucumber and tomato. Pour in the lime juice and olive oil and stir gently to mix.
In the bowl of a food processor pour in the milk and add the garlic, avocados and lime juice. Process until completely smooth, scraping down the sides as necessary to incorporate all the ingredients. Add sour cream and pulse until just mixed, then add salt to taste.
The crema makes nearly four cups, which is more than enough to serve a small amount alongside the salad, but it is also spectacular as a dip for chips or in tacos or burritos. It'll keep for at least a week stored in the fridge, so don't be afraid to make the whole batch. (It can also be halved if you don't want to make the whole amount.)
Nectarine and Cherry Salad with Roasted Hazelnuts
1 1/2 lbs. nectarines (yellow or white) sliced 1 1/2 c. Bing cherries, pitted and halved 1/2 c. roasted hazelnuts, roughly chopped
Combine all ingredients (reserving some chopped nuts) in a bowl and toss. Garnish with remaining hazelnuts.
For the salad: 2 c. stale bread, cut in 1" cubes 4 oz. sliced bacon, cut crosswise in 1/4" pieces 3 medium-sized tomatoes, chopped in 1" cubes 1 small head iceberg lettuce or 1 medium head romaine, chopped
For the dressing: 1/4 c. mayonnaise 2 Tbsp. apple cider vinegar 2 Tbsp. olive oil 3 Tbsp. buttermilk or whole milk 1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard Salt and pepper to taste
To make this more-than-just-a-tomato salad-with-bacon, start by cooking about a quarter pound of good bacon until it's crispy. Set the bacon aside and add a couple of handfuls of cubed bread to the bacon fat. If there's not enough to really coat the bread, add some extra virgin olive oil. Toast the bread until it's lightly browned.
Add dressing ingredients to a large salad bowl and whisk to combine. Add salad ingredients and toss well to combine. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
Kale, Lentil and Nectarine Salad
3 c. lacinato kale, sliced into chiffonade 2 c. cooked lentils 1/4 red onion, chopped fine 1/2 cucumber, seeded, quartered lengthwise and thinly sliced crosswise 1 red bell pepper, roasted and thinly sliced into 1" long pieces 2 nectarines, chopped into 1/2” pieces Juice of 1 lemon 1/4 c. olive oil Salt to taste
Combine ingredients in large salad bowl. Toss. Adjust seasonings.
Whenever my mother would visit, the first thing we did was to sit her down and hand her a gin and tonic. You might say it was the family's signature cocktail, since even before I had been introduced to the joys of a good gin, my father had instructed me in the art of making a decent gin and tonic.
To wit: a glass two-thirds full of ice, two fingers of clear-as-an-icy-mountain stream gin poured over said ice, then fill with tonic—whether plain or artisanal, it made no difference. A final touch was a wedge of lime squeezed over the top and dropped into the glass. A brief stir with a cocktail spoon (or even a finger—the alcohol would vanquish any germ that dared intrude) and it was done. No recipe, no finicky measuring of ingredients. Just gin, tonic and lime over ice was all that was required.
Some of the aunties preferred a little less gin, a little more tonic—that was fine. Some uncles may have tipped a splash more gin in the mix; no shame there, either. Ratios of two parts gin to five parts tonic may be touted by rules-bound aficonados, but in our family a perfect gin and tonic was always a personal matter, a ratio determined when the complex variables of mood, external and internal temperature, maybe even altitude (who knows?) came into play.
The one rule that always applied? Sip and enjoy.
Classic Gin and Tonic
Gin Tonic Lime wedge
Fill glass 3/4 full of ice. Pour in two fingers of gin. Fill with tonic. Squeeze lime wedge over top and drop it in the glass. Briefly stir to combine.
Elderflower Gin and Tonic
Gin Tonic 1 to 1 1/2 cocktail spoons elderflower syrup (equivalent to 1 to 1 1/2 tsp.) Lime wedge
Fill glass 3/4 full of ice. Pour in two fingers of gin and add elderflower syrup. Fill with tonic. Squeeze lime wedge over top and drop it in the glass. Briefly stir to combine
Ginger Rapport's newsletters for the Beaverton Farmers Market are worth getting for the information and recipes she shares (click here to subscribe). Her deep knowledge of produce shines through, helped by her passion for cooking and education. Here she talks about the luscious Northwest peaches and nectarines tumbling into midsummer markets.
What is the difference between a peach and a nectarine? They are genetically almost the same with the exception of one gene, the one that determines if it will have a fuzzy or smoothskin. A nectarine is basically a bald peach. They may be used interchangeably in recipes but as far as fresh eating goes, people can have strong opinions about which is best. Many people prefer nectarines because they don’t like the fuzz on a peach. It is more of a textural thing than it is about taste. However, nectarines tend to be firmer, sweeter and more aromatic than their fuzzy cousins.
Both peaches and nectarines come in “freestone” varieties, which means that the fruit separates easily from the pit and “clingstone” varieties where the flesh clings tightly to the pit. Freestones are better for freezing while clingstones are better for canning.
If you are making a recipe that calls for removing the skin of a peach or nectarine, we recommend the following method:
With a paring knife, make a small "X" in the skin on the bottom of the fruit. Then drop it into a large pot of boiling water for 10-20 seconds. You may do multiple fruits at a time as long as you are able to get them all out of the boiling water within a few seconds of one another. You want to loosen the skin, not cook the fruit.
Immediately place fruit in a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking. Starting at the X on the bottom, lift the skin away from the fruit. It should peel easily if your fruit is ripe. If your fruit is under-ripe, peeling will be more difficult and may require a paring knife. (This is also how you peel tomatoes.)
Peach and nectarine season has a very small window where it overlaps with cherry season. One of our favorite—and totally easy—recipes that features both is this nectarine and cherry salad with roasted hazelnuts featuring Baird Family Orchards nectarines, Kiyokawa Family Orchards Bing cherries, and Ken and June's dry roasted hazelnuts.
Nectarine and Cherry Salad with Roasted Hazelnuts
1 1/2 lbs. nectarines (yellow or white) sliced 1 1/2 c. Bing cherries, pitted and halved 1/2 c. roasted hazelnuts, roughly chopped
Combine all ingredients (reserving some chopped nuts) in a bowl and toss. Garnish with remaining hazelnuts.
I'm not a woo-woo sort of person. Pragmatism runs deep in my veins, but recently it's been feeling like the universe is pointing me in the direction of fermentation. Not in a Portlandia "I can pickle that" way, though the show definitely picked up on a trend here with almost every chef in town featuring her own house-made pickles on every plate.
Granted, for several years I've been saying "This is the year I'm going to learn to make pickles!"—or kimchi or sauerkraut or whatever. And the year comes and goes without much progress being made, though I've participated in a few pickling sessions with friends. One of those sessions involved making pickled onions with my neighbors Bill and Jen, who have a huge garden on their city lot and preserve a great deal of what they grow every year.
When I dropped by their place to pick up some cucumbers the other day, Jen brought out one of two thick, three-ring binders full of favorite family recipes that her grandmother had carefully typed out—color me envious! It included one from her great-grandmother for fresh cucumber pickles that are ready in 24 hours. Need I mention that anything quick and easy has my name written all over it?
And indeed, when I got home, I sliced up those cucumbers, salted them down per great-grandma's instructions, made the brine, and a couple of hours later had two quart jars of pickles sitting in the fridge. I admit I sampled them before the 24 hours had gone by and they were delightful. So good, in fact, that they ended up coming with us that very evening as part of an antipasto platter we were taking to celebrate our friends' new home.
As for future fermentation festivities? Turns out the universe wasn't done with me just yet. Dave gave me a copy of Sandor Katz's The Art of Fermentation as an anniversary present, so expect to read about those adventures in future installments!
Great-Grandma's Fresh Cucumber Pickles
From my neighbor Jen.
5-6 cucumbers, about 8" long 1 medium onion 3-4 Tbsp. salt 2 c. cider vinegar 1/2 c. sugar 1/2 c. water Optional: mustard seeds, peppercorns, fresh dill, dried chiles, whole garlic cloves
Slice cucumbers into 1/8" coins. Slice onion into quarters lengthwise, then into 1/4" slices crosswise. Combine in large bowl. Add salt and mix. Place in refrigerator for 90 minutes.
While cucumber mixture is soaking, in a medium-sized pan heat vinegar and water to a bare simmer. Add sugar. Stir until it dissolves, then add any desired spices (mustard seeds, pappercorns, dried chiles and garlic cloves). Allow to cool slightly.
When cucumbers are ready, rinse in several changes of running water, draining thoroughly between rinses. (Great-grandma says to rinse until they no longer taste of salt, but mine never did get to that stage.) Drain thoroughly. Pack cucumbers and onions into quart jars, layering them with spices from the brine and the fresh dill. Pour brine over packed cucumbers, using a chopstick inserted down the side to press out air bubbles as much as possible. Cover with lid and put in refrigerator. The pickles will be ready in 24 hours. Makes approximately 2 quarts.
I needed an easy appetizer to take to the annual gathering of "lady food writers" the other night—spectacularly talented writers, cookbook authors and cooks all—and was not feeling inspired. That is, until I saw that one of my favorite cheesemakers, Fraga Farmstead Creamery, had posted on social media that they would have fresh feta at their farmers' market booths over the weekend.
As luck would have it, one of those farmers' markets happened to be in our neighborhood, and I knew this crowd would be the perfect audience for Fraga's stellar cheese. So I got myself dressed and out of the house Saturday morning, shimmied over to the market, bought a jar of snow-white feta cubes swirling in whey brine, and rewarded myself for the effort with a breakfast bowl of Umi Organic noodles. (I think I deserved it, don't you?)
The day of the gathering I simply drained the whey, reserving the brine for later use, and transferred the cubes of cheese to a bowl where I added chopped herbs from the garden, olive oil, chile flakes and garlic. I left it on the counter for a couple of hours, swished it around a few times, placed it on a platter lined with grape leaves foraged from my neighbor's vines, added triangles of pita, and took it to the party. Raves ensued.
I can't wait to crumble more of this amazing feta into a shrimp salad this summer, or tuck it into a hamburger patty for stuffed cheeseburgers. Yes, it's that good!
Feta Marinated with Herbs, Garlic and Lemon
8 oz. brick feta cheese Olive oil Fresh herbs (oregano, thyme, tarragon) Zest of half lemon 1 medium clove garlic, minced 1/4 tsp. red chile flakes
Cut feta into 1/2" cubes. Place in medium-sized mixing bowl along with herbs, zest, garlic and chile flakes. Add enough oil to barely cover and mix gently. Place in refrigerator for at least two hours, stirring occasionally. Serve with pita wedges.