Eggplant Gratin

Eggplant Gratin with spaghetti and chunky heirloom tomato sauce

Eggplant Gratin with spaghetti and chunky heirloom tomato sauce

This may just be the best way I have ever eaten eggplant. It is a lower fat gratin than the usual variety that uses half & half, but no one will ever know. It is still as fluffy and creamy as the original. I had buttermilk to use and necessity is the mother of invention! I served it with spaghetti noodles and some of the Chunky Heirloom Tomato Sauce from last week’s post.

Olive oil for frying

1 1/2 pounds eggplant, unpeeled, sliced 1/2 inch thick – about 2 Everblossom eggplants

1/3 cup low-fat sour cream

1/3 cup low-fat cream cheese

1/3 cup buttermilk

2 extra-large eggs

1/4 cup chives, chopped finely

1 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese

Sea salt

Freshly ground pepper

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Heat about 1/8 inch of oil in a large frying pan over medium heat. When the oil is almost smoking add several slices of eggplant, but don’t overcrowd. Cook, turning once or twice until they are evenly browned and cooked through, about 5 minutes. Use a splatter guard if you have one and be careful. Transfer the cooked eggplant to a paper towel. Add more oil to the pan, heat it and repeat until all slices are cooked.

In a small bowl, mix together the sour cream, cream cheese, buttermilk, eggs and chives, half cup of the parmesan cheese, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper.

In a square baking dish layer the eggplant slices, salt and pepper, and pour on the custard mixture. Sprinkle the top with the remaining half-cup parmesan cheese. Bake for 10 minutes; lower heat to 375 and bake for another 20 minutes until the custard is browned on top and your dish is hot and bubbly.

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Chunky Heirloom Tomato Sauce

The big pink Belgian Beauty with a salty Green Zebra and the abundant plum tomato.

The big pink Belgian Beauty with a salty Green Zebra and the abundant plum tomato.

Always wish you had a sweet Italian grandma and your very own family tomato sauce recipe? Well, here’s a way to fake it. The Amish Paste tomatoes that Elaine has been growing for us are great for sauce, but using an assortment of the heirloom tomatoes is just oh so old world. This is a very quick sauce compared to one you must leave on the stove all day – thinner but bright and flavorful. It uses your Everblossom onion, garlic, pepper and tomatoes. It is enough for 2 servings of pasta at least.

8 good pours of extra-virgin olive oil

1 medium onion, diced

1/2 of a small chili pepper, seeded and minced

1 large clove garlic, minced

1 ½ quarts assorted heirloom tomatoes, peeled and chopped – I recommend using at least some “Amish Paste”

A pinch of sea salt and fresh-ground pepper

A pinch of sugar

Leaves from a handful of oregano sprigs (about ½ cup of loose leaves), chopped

Splash of your favorite wine

Shaved parmesan cheese for serving

Elaine's heirlooms. Including Amish Paste, top left and Striped German top right.

Elaine’s heirlooms. Including Amish Paste, top left and my favorite Striped German top right.

  • In a large sauté pan, add oil, onion, and pepper and cook over medium-high heat until onions are translucent, about 5 minutes. Add garlic toward the end so it doesn’t burn.
  • Add chopped tomatoes and cook until they are very soft and watery, about 15 minutes. Add a pinch of salt, pepper and sugar and reduce heat to medium.
  • Stir in oregano and a splash of wine and cook for another 5 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning.
  • Keep sauce on low heat until your pasta is ready. Serve with big shavings of parmesan cheese

You can substitute basil for the oregano, or add basil in addition. Add more chili pepper if you like more heat.

A tomato story

a harvest of organic heirlooms

a harvest of organic heirlooms

Elaine sent me to the tomato patch. “Is it on the top of the hill?”, I asked. “Behind the berries?” She looked at me, wanting to say yes, but stumped by my question. I looked at her holding her new baby and I felt silly, “Oh, I’ll find them.”

I mean come on, I am not a farmer, but I can certainly recognize a tomato plant. As I approached the hilltop, I saw the big red-orange fruit and realized my mistake. The tall bushy plants I saw from a distance were not berries. They WERE the tomato plants — five or six long rows of over 100 tomato plants staked up to stand taller than me. In contrast, the few plants at my house, left to fend on their own, preferred to slump and spread wildly over the ground.

It’s such a civilized way to pick tomatoes. You barely need to bend over. Each plant stands around 6 feet tall, climbing up a fence of rebar and twine. I left my cart at the end and walked in between two rows all very exactly the same wide distance apart. It was dense and quiet and I thought about how I could hide in here and maybe even get lost. Well, at least get lost in my thoughts.

Come check them out for yourself and get a tour of other crops at the Everblossom Farm party on Saturday, October 19 at 2:00 PM!

I was looking to glean seconds, especially of my favorite sweet yellow heirloom, Striped Germans. The bulging fruit with a split here or there hung heavily on the vine. They gave easily with the slightest twist or tug and I tried not to squish them in my hands. I had a feeling of coming to their rescue. I was rescuing them to my canning jars. To preserve and save them for winter.

It is interesting the things that can give you purpose when you least expect it and when you most need it.

Canning Heirloom Tomatoes in Tomato Juice

IMG_2773 - Version 2

Our Aunt Jeanne has been preserving her garden through canning for over 40 years. So, when she offered to teach my sister, Elaine, how to do it, I jumped at the chance…to butt in and take over…No, I mean of course to take advantage of her generous offer. This is Aunt Jeanne’s method. You can find the main parts in a basic book on canning, but there are some small steps that are all her. Those are my favorite parts. The mistakes, on the other hand, are all mine.

The best laid plans

In mid-August we started by tackling tomatoes in my kitchen surrounded by friends.  Still, I felt so intimidated. I had anxiously prepared the night before. I had three gallon bags of whole tomatoes blanched and peeled waiting in the fridge.  I had a hot dishwasher full of sterilized jars, lids (flats) and rings…oops. Lesson #1: Do not put the flat lid parts in the dishwasher or any hot water before it’s time.

My Aunt Jeanne is not a fussy lady. So, when she was adamant that the flat lids of the canning process must be treated very carefully and is the one part of the system you should never wash in advance, nor heat to any degree before you’re ready and certainly never re-use, I had to throw them away and get new.  Actually my husband ran to the hardware store to buy us more. So much for planning ahead! Honestly, I was surprised at the lack of comments or warnings anywhere on my jar equipment about this.

Finally, we got started. Canning requires your full attention and each step is important. Over the years Aunt Jeanne says she has made every mistake possible. Little did she know I had a new one in store for her. Because I had peeled my tomatoes the night before, they had spent all night draining their juices. So, days later after they were canned and cozy on my cellar shelf, I noticed they were low on juice. The jars looked half empty! Tomatoes were exposed to the air in the jar at the top. We had no idea how this could happen. I had temporarily stumped my guru. Then Jeanne called – she had remembered my attempt to work ahead. Tomatoes are spongey and my previously drained ones dried out enough that when we submerged them back in the juice in the jar, they soaked it up!

Over time it was likely that those tomatoes exposed to air would get rubbery or worse. So, I had to re-can our seven lovely jars of tomatoes. And lesson #2  was learned: Do not work ahead when it comes to canning.

Re-canning

They say it’s important to make your mistakes early. This holds true in canning. You certainly want to know right away if something’s gone wrong. You do not want to realize this months later when you go to retrieve your little jar full of high hopes and big plans.

I made a few mistakes in my first attempts, but nothing spectacular. The worst was during the re-processing of my jars now filled to the jar lip with hot tomato juice. The first jar I lowered into the boiling water popped. Oops, and then there were six.  I was disappointed, but quickly felt relieved that it happened early and my other six jars were safe on dry land.  My mistake, and Lesson #3, was that the canner water was too hot – the jars from my cool cellar were too cool. I picked out the big glass jar pieces as my tomatoes oozed out into the water. After cleaning it all out, I started again, but this time, I brought my jars and the surrounding water slowly up to boiling together.

Don’t be intimidated, but do be ready to focus

I only share my experience and mistakes in the hope it will demystify the process and that you will try canning and have a quicker path to success. It is so rewarding to hear your jars seal with a satisfying kiss of the cooling tomatoes sucking the lid tight to the jar. The sound of success! I don’t want you to miss out on that.

Canning tomatoes in tomato juice

The Equipment:

  • Have clean jars and rings ready.  Have new flats (or “lids”) waiting in their pristine untouched condition.
  • We used a canner to process the tomatoes – a large kettle with a lid and a metal insert that holds 7 or 9 jars.
  • For juice making use a chinoispronounced shin’-wah, a conical sieve with an extremely fine mesh, its stand for over a pot, a wooden pestle, and two large pots.
  • A ladle
  • A funnel that fits your jars.
  • Tongs made for lifting jars.

The Ingredients:

  • Assorted whole peeled tomatoes – 3 1-gallon bags of tomatoes will fill 7 quart jars, leaving room for juice.
  • Assorted varieties of tomatoes for juice – Smaller varieties and “seconds” are great for this.  You’ll need about 10 quarts of tomatoes to make enough juice to cover your whole tomatoes. Or, use at least twice that amount to also make jars of just juice — enough to fill a 16 to 18 quart pot
  • 2 stalks of celery
  • 1 medium onion
  • Coarse salt

IMG_2723

Peeling and preparing tomatoes:

  • Heat a large pot of water until simmering.
  • Cut an X in the bottom of each tomato. Working in batches, blanch tomatoes for 3 minutes or until peels start to crack and peel away. Transfer to a bowl of ice cubes and after cool enough to handle, easily pull off the skins and cut away the tough or bad parts.
  • Place peeled tomatoes into jars, filling each up until just beneath the lip of the jar.
  • Add a pinch of salt in each.

Making the Juice and assembling the jars:

  • Use an assortment of tomatoes for the best flavor – enough to fill a 16 to 18 quart pot.  Cut them in half and remove any bad spots. No need to peel them.
  • Add 2 stalks of celery roughly chopped and one onion cut into eighths.
  • Cook in a large, 16 to 18 quart pot on medium heat with 2 teaspoons of salt.
the makings of tomato juice

the makings of tomato juice

  • Stir with a long spoon, moving tomatoes from the bottom until soft and dissolving, about 30 minutes.
  • Strain tomato mixture through the chinois sieve, using the pestle to strain juice into another large pot.
a chinois training tomato juice

a chinois straining tomato juice

  • Put juice back on stove to heat over medium/high.
  • Heat the water in the canner until water is boiling.  Cover until you’re ready.
  • Put only the number of flats you will use at this time (7) in a small saucepan of water on the low heat.
  • Ladle the juice into the first jar, covering the tomatoes so that the liquid reaches the bottom of the lip of the jar where the threads start. Wipe the rim with a clean damp cloth. Carefully lift out one flat from the warm water with a fork and your fingertips – but with minimal touching. Place it on the jar. Screw on the ring snugly, or finger-tight. Repeat for all seven jars.
  • Carefully place all jars in the boiling water of the canner at the same time. Cover and process for 45 minutes.
jars in the canner

jars in the canner

  • Remove processed jars to a kitchen towel and cover with another one. Covering the jars is one of those Aunt Jeanne steps that keeps the jars warm and cozy, but is optional when it gets right down to it. I, however, will always cover mine for good luck.
  • Check the lids in 4 to 5 hours  by pressing on the centers of each lid. If a lid gives, refrigerate it. If there is no movement, success!
heaven-sent jars of heirloom tomatoes

heaven-sent jars of heirloom tomatoes

If you have extra tomato juice, while it’s hot, pour into jars 1/2 inch from the top; wipe the rim; add a warm flat; screw on the ring until tight and let rest under a towel. There is no need to process jars of juice in the canner. Make sure they seal after 4 or 5 hours just as you did the others.

Garden Potato Salad

Lunch: a bowl of garden potato salad

Lunch: a bowl of garden potato salad

Serves 6

This potato salad has been my very favorite since Elaine’s first season back in 2005 . I can eat just a bowl of it for lunch. It uses your Everblossom potatoes, garlic, basil, and Elaine’s variety of beans.

My hamstrings and I had the opportunity to help pick a row of her beans last week.  It is the hardest crop to pick in my amateur opinion and could be made easier only if you had a hover craft. It was, however, a great time to think and talk with Elaine as we moved slowly hunched over, eyes on the stringy prize, our hands busy. Our dad said it was heartwarming to see us working out there together. There is something pure and good about farm work with your sister. But, the next day my legs suggested that maybe next time just sitting around together could be nice too.

clockwise from top, Dragon Tongue, Provider, Indy Gold, Burgundy

clockwise from top: Dragon Tongue, Provider, Indy Gold, Burgundy

½ cup extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons champagne vinegar
1 ½ tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 large clove garlic, minced
½ teaspoon pepper
2 large handfuls of string beans cut into 1 ½” pieces
2 tablespoons salt
2 pounds assorted potatoes, scrubbed and cut into 1 ½” pieces
1 small bunch of basil, chopped

  • Whisk oil, vinegar, mustard, garlic, and pepper together in a large bowl. Reserve ¼ cup of dressing in measuring cup
  • Boil beans in salted water until crisp, but tender, about 4 minutes. Remove beans with a slotted spoon and transfer to a colander to dry. Then add to large bowl with dressing. Toss to coat.
  •  Add potatoes to the still simmering water and cook until a paring knife can be inserted without resistance, 7-10 minutes. Drain in a colander and add to beans and dressing. Toss to coat. Let sit for 10 minutes.
  •  Just before serving add basil, and reserved dressing. Toss gently.

Keema: An Indian Curry

Keema in process

Keema in process

Serves 4

A wonderful friend made Keema for my daughter, Audrey, and me one weekend our families were away together. She is an experienced cook and knows the luxury of a dinner you can hold in the oven at 200 degrees until everybody’s ready. She serves it with shredded coconut, perfectly tender roasted carrots, and only with basmati rice. I, however, am a little less strict about ingredients and have found that jasmine rice is also quite nice.

Use your Everblossom chard, onion, garlic, basil and tomatoes.

This has become such a family favorite, I triple this recipe and put the other two batches in the freezer.

3 tablespoons curry powder
3 tablespoons sesame oil, or peanut oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 bunch of Swiss chard, rinsed and chopped
2 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped (cilantro or parsley is good here too)
1 pound ground beef
1 ¼ teaspoons salt
6 to 8 ripe plum-sized tomatoes or equivalent
10 ounces frozen peas

  • Prepare rice according to package instructions. Hold separately.
  • Sauté curry powder in oil over medium heat for 2 to 3 minutes. Add onions and brown. Add garlic, chard and basil and stir. Add meat and brown.
  • Blanch tomatoes in hot water until you can remove peels easily; finely chop.
  • Add salt and peeled, chopped tomatoes; cover. Cook over low heat for about 20 to 25 minutes. Add peas, mix in, cover again, and cook for about 5 minutes.
  • Serve over rice

Important: Do not use a black cast iron skillet or wooden spoons; the curry powder will get in the pores. A silicon scraper may also be dyed yellow.

Quick Panzanella with Cucumber

Cucumber Panzanella

Bread Salad!

Panzanella is a Florentine salad of bread and tomatoes. That’s right; it is a salad with bread as a main ingredient! It includes chunks of stale bread soaked in oil and vinegar dressing and tomatoes, sometimes also onions and basil. My quick version has just three main ingredients: chewy bread, juicy tomatoes and sweet cucumber, so they need to be the best quality.

This year I am part of the Lark Rise Bakery bread share and it is some of the best bread I have ever had.  I used cubes of their ciabatta this time. I also love to toss this all in store-bought Gazebo Room Greek salad dressing. As promised, my version is very quick.

Lark Rise Bakery Ciabatta

Lark Rise Bakery Ciabatta

  • 1 chopped cucumber, about 2 cups
  • 1 big handful of tomatoes, chopped, about 2 cups
  • 2 cups of cubed high-quality bread,  stale or toasted slightly
  • 1/2 cup of a favorite Greek, Italian, or oil and vinegar dressing, more if needed.

Combine all the lovely chopped ingredients and toss them in the dressing. It will be best if the flavors can marinate by sitting at room temperature for 20 minutes or so before serving.

Cooking in Foil Packets

Elaine likes to whip up foil packet feasts in the summer. Here are just a few ideas to get you started. This method makes cooking large amounts really easy – and no pots to clean. Cook these packets in the oven, on the grill, or on campfire cinders. Either way you’ll find that it seems to heighten the flavor as all the ingredients steam together.

the root foil packet

“root” foil packet with thyme

Make a foil packet: take a sheet of heavy-duty aluminum foil, generously sized, but appropriate to the amount you plan to cook. Drizzle with olive oil; add prepared veg; fold together opposite sides of the foil, rolling down a few times, but leave a little space for the steam to circulate. Then, fold up each end to seal.

Cook in a pre-heated oven at about 375oF or grill at medium heat until contents are fork tender.

  • Root Packet: Cut into even pieces your choice of potatoes, onions, beets, and carrots. Drizzle with olive oil; add sprigs of thyme, parsley or your favorite herb, salt, and pepper. Cook approximately 15 minutes.
  • Rustic Ratatouille: Evenly chop summer squash, tomatoes, garlic, and peppers. Drizzle with olive oil; add choice of herbs like oregano, thyme, parsley. Cook approximately 15 minutes. Serve over pasta or rice.
  • Chard: Rinse and chop or rip the leaves and stems of a large bunch of Swiss chard. Add to packet with some olive oil. Add juice of half lemon and then toss in the lemon too. You can also add a slice of tomato to help the steaming process. Cook for about 5 minutes.
  • Roasted Garlic: There is no easier way to enjoy the sweet nutty goodness of roasted garlic for making garlic mashed potatoes, garlic bread, or bruschetta. Use cloves or bulbs of garlic (peeling optional), drizzle in olive oil, and wrap in foil. Bake in the oven for about 30 minutes until tender. The soft sweet garlic will squeeze right out of the peel.
  • Roasted Onion: Leave the peel on an onion to prevent it from burning. Cross-cut ¾ of the way down the top of an onion and stuff it with rosemary, thyme, and a hunk of butter.  Add salt and pepper; wrap in foil. Cook for about 10 minutes or until softened through.

Fresh Cucumber Margarita

Everblossom Cucumber Margarita

Everblossom Cucumber Margarita

Happy Friday!  This is sure to freshen up your weekend. Serves 4.

  • 1 medium cucumber, peeled, halved lengthwise, and de-seeded
  • 1/2 cup lime juice (3 limes)
  • 1/2 cup Cointreau (orange liquor)
  • 3/4 cup tequila
  • 2 tablespoons superfine sugar
  • 6 cups ice
the goodies

the goodies

Prepare your cucumber by peeling first, then slice in half lengthwise and use a spoon to gently pull and scrape out the seeds.

Then slice it up and add to blender along with everything else. Blend a few seconds until smooth.

cukes in the belly of the beast

cukes in the belly of the beast

Cheers!

Radicchio and prosciutto salad

That's Raddichio

That’s Radicchio!

This is one of two ways I like to eat radicchio, the other is in a pasta recipe that I will share later.  It’s bitterness is complemented here by the salty prosciutto and the sweet, tangy balsamic. Take off the outer green leaves off and use mostly the inner red ones.

I have used manchego in this recipe, but you could use parmesan or similar. Manchego is a softer milder cheese and it is my favorite! It is Spanish; made of milk from sheep called Manchega.

I think prosciutto from the deli tastes better than the pre-packaged kind. Get a 1/4 pound very thinly sliced and you won’t be disappointed.

8 to 10 slices of prosciutto, cut in bite-sized pieces (about 8 ounces)

1 small head radicchio, shredded or chopped (3 cups)

6 ounces manchego cheese, grated in large slivers

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil

3 to 4 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

  • On a serving platter arrange the slices of prosciutto with the shredded radicchio; top with manchego cheese slivers.
  • Drizzle olive oil and vinegar all over salad.