Okay, normally, I take a long time to get to the recipe. There are important stories to tell or there’s rhapsodizing about everyday life to do or the occasional need for a rant or some new culinary discovery by my toddler to report or . . . But look, people, it’s high summer and that farm share box is getting heavy and there’s pressing business to hand. Serious focus is required to keep those vegetables going into our bellies and not into the compost. So I’m not going to distract you with a lot of prose. Instead, let me offer three easy ways of using up that haul from the farm and feeling like you did something a little special in the process. Now stop wasting valuable produce-eating time dithering around on the Web. Get in that kitchen and start cooking.
Roasted beet and beet green salad
Young Nick looked at some beets yesterday and declared solemnly “I have not tried that and I do not like it.” Until eating this, I felt the same way. Now I eat my beets weekly.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Remove the greens from some medium-small beets (we’ve been running about one and half per person for a hearty side dish) and set aside. Put the beets in an oven-proof baking dish and pour in enough water to reach halfway up the sides of the beets. Cover with aluminum foil and roast until a butter knife slides into the beets without much resistance. Forty-five minutes to an hour.
Meanwhile, make a vinaigrette with quarter cup of olive oil and generous slosh (a bit more than a tablespoon) of balsamic or red wine vinegar. Whisk in salt, pepper, and one or two cloves of minced garlic. Set aside. Remove the stems from the beet greens and discard. Wash the greens and tear them up roughly. Toss them into a pan, with a little bit of water (what’s clinging to the leaves should be sufficient) and cook them over high heat for about five minutes, until wilted. Take them off the heat, let them cool a bit, give them a good squeeze to remove excess moisture, and chop them. Lay them out in a shallow bowl.
When the beets are cooked and cool enough to handle, give them a vigorous rub with your thumb to remove the skin. It should slide right off, but if the skin is sticky at all (or if you want to avoid the dreaded purple thumb), give it a little extra push with a paring knife or peeler. Cut the beets in half and thinly slice. Arrange decoratively on top of the greens. Pour the vinaigrette over the salad, then sprinkle with a tablespoon or two of capers. Finally, take about half a cup of crumbled feta cheese and spread over the top.
The colors on this are quite pretty and the feta and beet flavors together are magical.
Green bean and cherry tomato salad
This is almost too absurdly easy to transcribe, but it helps to be reminded sometimes . . .
Wash and trim a pound of fresh green beans. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil and tip in the beans. Cook for four to five minutes. When the beans are done, drain and spread out to cool. Meanwhile, whisk together a half cup of olive oil, a couple of tablespoons of vinegar (see below for comments on variety) and a diced shallot or spring onion with some salt and pepper. Take a generous handful of cherry tomatoes and slice in half (they can be kept whole for maximum simplicity, but I like the way slicing them releases some delicious tomato ooze). When you are ready to serve, toss together the beans, some herbs (again, see below), the dressing and tomatoes. Avoid premature tossing as the beans, while still tasty, lose their bright color.
Serves four as a light side.
A note on variations: I’ve been making this two different ways this summer. The first is with red wine vinegar and ribbons of fresh basil (extra points for using up some of the CSA basil); the second is with a tarragon spin, using tarragon vinegar and a handful of fresh tarragon. Very nice, but my tarragon plant is a little pathetic this year, so I have to restrain myself from harvesting past the point of no return. This basic plan also works well with roasted red pepper and pine nuts instead of cherry tomatoes. And maybe a sieved hard-cooked egg. Or some yellow beans mixed with green. You get the picture.
Summer squash gratin
Reading Chez Panisse Vegetables got me started on gratin this year. Once you have the basic technique down, the gratin is an easy way to cook up lots of things. Basically, vegetables (sometimes pre-cooked, sometimes not) layered with some combination of butter, herbs and cheese, bathed in cream, milk or a mixture, and topped with cheese or breadcrumbs or neither. Baked until brown and bubbly, feels elegant and homey at the same time. Here, illustrated with summer squash. Which seems to just keep on coming.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Thinly slice four to six smallish summer squash. I used a Japanese mandoline which moved this task along very quickly. Butter a medium sized (four-cup?) ovenproof dish. Alternately layer squash, some sliced basil (got to use that basil!), and grated Parmesan cheese. You’ll probably get about three good layers. Pour in about a cup of cream, half and half or whole milk (I wouldn’t go lower fat than that; one needs some cream in one’s life) so that the cream almost flows over the top of the squash. Top with toasted bread crumbs (or not) and bake until golden brown and bubbly, occasionally poking the squash down under the cream. This should take about an hour. This tastes very nice with grilled meats and serves four as a light side dish.