Archive | August 2012

Stars of the Summer Garden


We wait all summer for this: red-ripe tomatoes, fat purple eggplant, sweet red peppers, and summer squash galore. Now is the time to capture those flavors, while they’re at their height, and what better dish than Ratatouille (the name even sounds like a celebration) to celebrate the stars of the summer garden? The dish originates in Southern France, where a medley of vegetables is sautéed in generous amounts of olive oil and layered into a casserole, or ragout. My version strayed over into Sicily or Spain. I grill my vegetables, so what I am making is really more like Ratatouille’s Catalan relative, Escalivada, meaning “baked over embers.” I like the fire-roasted flavor and the way the grilling makes it easy for each vegetable to keep its individual identity and texture intact. Oven roasting is a good alternative to grilling–the principle is the same: Cook the vegetables separately with high heat to caramelize the juices and concentrate the flavor. Marry the flavors after the vegetables are cooked and highlight with fresh herbs, garlic, and a splash of fresh lemon juice or balsamic vinegar. 

Ratatouille  Escalivada 

Grilled Ratatouille 

EggplantVegetables: 2 medium eggplants (about 1 1/4 pounds), 2 medium red onions, 2 or 3 large red or yellow bell peppers (or Italian roasting peppers), 4 small or 2 medium zucchini, 10 plum or 5 to 6 medium round red-ripe tomatoes (1 1/2 pounds), 6 to 8 large garlic cloves, a handful torn basil leaves, and 2 Tbs chopped mixed fresh herbs: parsley, thyme, marjoram, oregano…

Additional ingredients: extra virgin olive oil, fresh lemon juice, balsamic vinegar, coarse sea salt or kosher salt, and freshly ground black pepper.

Heat a gas or charcoal grill to medium-high while you prepare the vegetables. Thinly slice the garlic and heat it in a small pan with 1/3-cup extra virgin olive oil just until bubbles begin to rise around the garlic. Turn off the heat and set aside. Peel lengthwise strips of skin off the eggplant, leaving stripes, and cut into 1/2 inch slices (if the eggplant are small, cut them lengthwise); cut the onions into quarters or 1/2-inch thick slices and secure with toothpicks; cut the zucchini into halves or quarters lengthwise; cut the plum tomatoes in half . Leave the peppers whole. Brush the eggplant, onion, tomatoes and zucchini with the garlic oil (reserve the garlic!) to coat well. Sprinkle lightly with coarse salt.

Grill the vegetables: If using a gas grill, start grilling with all burners on medium-high to high (it depends on how hot your grill gets). Arrange the vegetables on the hot grill– brown one side, then flip and brown the other. Grill with the lid down. If you grill over charcoal, build a two-zone fire to have a hot side and a medium-low side. Grill the vegetables uncovered over the hot coals to sear both sides; move to the cooler side and cover to finish cooking.

Eggplant and zucchini can be grilled at the same time–they both take 4 to 6 minutes per side and need to be checked often. Grill the onions, peppers, and plum tomatoes together for a total of about 10 to 12 minutes. Move the onions and tomatoes to low heat if they need further cooking after searing both sides. Rotate the peppers until the skin is charred on all sides and put them in a paper bag to cool before peeling.

Don’t undercook! The great flavor comes from the juices caramelizing at high heat. The vegetables should be well browned and tender inside. As they finish cooking, transfer to a large platter or baking dish.

Peel the tomatoes if you like; separate the onion into layers or rings; peel and cut the peppers into thick slices, cut the zucchini and eggplant into 1-inch pieces. Gently combine the vegetables in a large serving bowl or shallow platter– mixed or layered or arranged in an artful design, however you like. Distribute the slivers of garlic, basil leaves and chopped herbs; add a squeeze or two fresh lemon juice or a splash balsamic vinegar, salt and black pepper to taste. For a Sicilian touch, add 1/2 tsp ground cumin seed, 1/2 tsp paprika, and 2 or 3 minced hot red chiles.

Oven-Roasting: Pre-heat the oven to 425 degrees F. Cut the eggplant into 1/2-inch slices; brush each side with olive oil, sprinkle with kosher salt, and place the slices on a baking sheet or roasting pan. Quarter the zucchini and cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces; slice the onions lengthwise into wedges; seed the peppers and cut into thick slices; peel the garlic cloves and leave them whole; cut the tomatoes in half and gently squeeze out the seeds, salt them lightly and place upside down in a colander to drain. Toss the zucchini, onion, garlic, and peppers with 4 Tbs extra virgin olive oil, two tsp chopped rosemary, a few sprigs thyme, and sprinkle with kosher salt. Spread the vegetables on a large roasting pan in a single layer. Put both pans in the oven. After 15 minutes, flip the eggplant over and stir the vegetables gently.  Place the tomatoes cut side up on a baking sheet.  Roast all the vegetables another 15 to 20 minutes, until tender and starting to char. When done, chop the eggplant into chunks. Scrape all the vegetables and their juices into a bowl; toss with fresh herbs and fresh lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste.

We ate our Ratatouille wrapped in freshly made pita bread, with yogurt sauce, cucumber salad, and a big pot of brown lentils cooked with Andouille sausage.

Here’s what to do with extra Ratatouille: Eat it on crusty toasted bread; toss it with pasta; serve it along side grilled meat or chicken kebabs…or on top of grilled fish; eat it with couscous; wrap it in a flatbread; add more chiles and make it into salsa; mix it into a salad of white beans and olives; top a pizza, fill an omelet or a calzone…

Eggplant Dinner


Roasted or grilled slices of eggplant (even zucchini!) are so good, you may want to stop right there. Follow the directions for oven roasting or grilling and make a topping for the crusty, succulent eggplant. Zucchini slices make excellent roll-ups. Any kind of bruschetta topping is good on roasted eggplant or zucchini–here are a few ideas:

*Bean Salad: Warm 2 Tbs extra virgin olive oil with 2 tsp whole cumin seed, about 1 minute. When the cumin is fragrant, add a finely chopped onion and sauté until soft, 5 or 6 minutes. Add 1 Tbs finely chopped garlic and 1 or 2 finely chopped fresh hot red chiles (use sweet peppers if you don’t like heat). Sauté 1 minute. Add 1 1/2 cups cooked garbanzo or white beans and stir to combine, add salt to taste. Cook over low heat 5 to 10 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and toss with 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley, 2 Tbs chopped fresh mint, and 2 or 3 tsp fresh lemon juice

Red Peppers*Roasted Red Pepper Salsa: Roast 1 or 2 red bell peppers with the eggplant. When the peppers are charred (about 15-20 minutes), take them from the oven and cover them with a kitchen towel for 10 to 20 minutes. Peel off the skin, remove the seeds, and chop the peppers into small dice. Mix with a few Tbs finely chopped red onion, 1 clove minced garlic, 1 Tbs capers, a few Tbs chopped green and black olives, 2 Tbs chopped fresh mint, and balsamic vinegar to taste.

Eggplant with Nasturtium*Goat Cheese and Nasturtium Flowers

*Spicy Greens with Feta Cheese: Dress some chopped arugula and spicy mesclun greens with extra virgin olive oil and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice. Toss with crumbled feta and toasted walnuts or pine nuts.

Egglpant Wraps*Herbed Ricotta with Ham and Tomato: Mix 1 cup whole milk ricotta with 1 Tbs finely chopped mint, 1 tsp finely chopped thyme, 1/2 tsp lemon zest, and 3 Tbs freshly grated parmesan or pecorino. Spread a spoonful of cheese over a thin slice of ham and top with chopped sundried or fresh tomato.

Brown Lentils with Sausage

I’m including this recipe because the lentils paired so well with the ratatouille in a flatbread meal. Besides, the dish is endorsed by Martha, who would rather paint than cook, so if she asks for a recipe I know it is good.

Rinse 2 cups lentils and put them in a saucepan with 3 or 4 sprigs fresh thyme, a big sprig fresh rosemary, a small hot chile, 1/2 tsp salt, and 6 cups water. Bring to a boil, cover the pot, and simmer 20 minutes, or until barely tender.

While the lentils cook, warm 3 Tbs extra virgin olive oil in a good-sized sauté pan or Dutch oven with 1 bay leaf and 1 tsp crushed cumin seed. Stir in 1 1/2 cups chopped onion and sauté 2 or 3 minutes. Stir in 1 cup finely chopped carrot, reduce the heat to low, and cover the pot. Allow to cook about 5 minutes, until the onion and carrot have softened. Stir in 2 minced garlic, 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes, 2 tsp finely chopped rosemary, 2 tsp thyme leaves, and 1/2 tsp salt. Cook 1 minute. Add 4 cups chopped fresh tomatoes and 1 cup green beans, cut in small pieces. Simmer until the vegetables are tender, about 10 minutes.

When the lentils are ready, drain off the extra liquid (save for soup broth) and add them to the vegetables, along with chunks or slices of cooked sausage (I grilled the Andouille sausage). Stir to combine and simmer 5 to 10 minutes to blend the flavors. Stir in a few Tbs chopped parsley and cilantro leaves. Taste for seasoning and add a splash of balsamic vinegar or fresh lemon juice.

Note: About 1 1/2 cups Tabouli salad from lunch went into these lentils, as well. The pot made just enough for 8 people.

Yogurt Sauce

Mix 1 cup whole milk or Greek-style strained yogurt with 1/2 tsp freshly toasted and ground cumin seed and 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper. Stir in 2 Tbs chopped fresh mint, 6 to 8 chopped basil leaves, 1 minced garlic clove, a little lemon zest, and salt to taste.


Using the Bounty–Soups of Summer

This is the time of year every gardener wonders what to do with all the vegetables piling up outside the kitchen door. Make soup! All these soups are wonderful hot or cold, and any extra freezes well.

Beet Borscht with Spices from the Silk Road


A mixture of red and gold beets is extra beautiful and delicious.

Warm 2 Tbs extra virgin olive oil (or other vegetable oil) in a large pot over medium heat. Sauté 1 large onion (quartered and thinly sliced), 2 diced carrots, 1 thinly sliced celery stalk, and 2 bay leaves until the onion is softened, 5 or 6 minutes. Stir in 2 thinly sliced garlic cloves, 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper, 1 tsp ground cumin seed, 1 tsp smoked paprika or Aleppo pepper, 1 tsp ground coriander seed and 1 tsp salt. Cook 1 minute. Add 6 cups chicken or vegetable broth and bring to a boil.

Add 1 to 1 1/2 pound beets, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch chunks (about 3 1/2 to 4 cups), 2 medium new potatoes, cut in 3/4-inch cubes, and 1/2 head thinly sliced cabbage  (about 3 cups). Cover the pot and simmer 45 minutes.

Add 1 cup chopped beet greens and 1 cup diced tomato (fresh or canned). Add more broth or water if the soup is too thick. Simmer 5 minutes, or until all the vegetables are tender. Stir in 1/4 cup chopped fresh dill, 1 Tbs cider vinegar, and 2 tsp balsamic vinegar. Taste for seasoning and add more salt or vinegar to taste.

Serve with sour cream or yogurt sauce and finely chopped green onions.

Yogurt Sauce

Mix together 1 cup whole milk yogurt, 1 garlic clove mashed to a paste with 1/4 tsp kosher salt, 1/2 tsp ground cumin seed, 2 tsp fresh lime juice, 1 tsp lime zest, and 2 Tbs chopped dill or mint.

 Summer Squash Soup with Curry Spices and Cilantro-Mint Pesto


I love summer squashes in all their many shapes and colors–they are spectacular in the garden. This year I am growing a beautiful patty pan type called “Sun Burst”, as well as “Italian Striped” and “Salman”zucchini. This soup will be pale yellow or pale green, depending on the type of squash available.

Warm 1 Tbs extra virgin olive oil and 1 Tbs butter over medium heat in a large pot. Stir in 1 large chopped white onion. Sauté until the onion is softened, about 5-6 minutes. Add 2 thinly sliced garlic cloves, 1 Tbs finely chopped fresh ginger, and 1 seeded and chopped jalapeno pepper; stir 1 minute. Add 1 1/2 lbs (about 2 quarts chopped) summer squash and stir to coat with the oil. Sprinkle with 1 tsp kosher or sea salt.

Add the spices: toast 1 tsp cumin seed and 1 tsp coriander seed on an iron skillet over medium heat until fragrant, shaking the pan or stirring constantly. Transfer to a mortar or spice grinder and grind to a fine powder. Stir in 1 1/2 tsp paprika, 1/2 tsp turmeric, a very small pinch of cardamom, and 1/4 tsp cayenne. Stir the spices into the vegetables.

Add 3 cups chicken or vegetable broth and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer 15 to 20 minutes, or until the vegetables are completely tender. Remove from the heat. When cooled slightly, puree the soup in a blender. Adjust the seasonings by adding a bit of curry powder or a spoonful of tomato paste or salsa. Blend in 1 cup whole milk yogurt and add salt and black pepper to taste.

Return the soup to the pot and stir in 1 to 2 Tbs fresh lemon juice. Gently reheat before serving, or cool and serve at room temperature or chilled. Garnish with chopped chives and cilantro leaves and swirl in some Cilantro-Mint Pesto.

Cilantro-Mint Pesto 

Use a food processor or blender to puree 1 1/2 cups cilantro stems and leaves, 1/2 cup Thai basil leaves, 1/2 cup mint leaves, 2 large garlic cloves, 1 Tbs minced ginger, 1 jalapeno pepper, 2-3 Tbs fresh lemon or lime juice, 1 tsp zest, 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil (or peanut or sesame oil) and salt to taste. Add water to thin, if needed. Optional: 1/4 cup roasted peanuts, pumpkin seeds, or cashews

Smoky Gazpacho


A cooked gazpacho…or is it a borsht? This Gazpacho is chunky and hearty, made smoky by grilled vegetables and a chicken broth made from the flavorful remains of garlic-herb grilled chicken.

Make the chicken broth by simmering the carcasses of two grilled chickens in a crock-pot overnight. Strain the broth and refrigerate. When cool, remove the fat from the surface. I freeze the broth in ice cube trays; the frozen broth cools the soup when it goes in the blender with the vegetables.

Vegetables for Gazpacho: 2 or 3 red bell peppers, 2 pounds red-ripe tomatoes, 3 small red onions, 2 or 3 small zucchini, 1 or 2 jalapeno or other medium-hot chiles, 2 or 3 large garlic cloves, 1/2 cup mixed fresh herbs (basil, parsley, cilantro, mint, chives, tarragon, thyme…)

Heat a gas or charcoal grill while you prepare the vegetables. Chop the herbs; seed and chop the hot chiles. Mash the garlic to a paste with 1/4 tsp kosher salt. Combine the garlic paste with 2 Tbs fresh lemon juice; set aside. Seed and cut the peppers into quarters; halve the onions lengthwise; cut the zucchini in half lengthwise. Toss these vegetables with olive oil to coat well; sprinkle with a little kosher salt. Grill the tomatoes whole, until the skin is blistered and beginning to char all over–5 or 6 minutes. Grill the cut vegetables about 5 minutes on each side, until they are soft and slightly charred.

Put the peeled tomatoes, peppers, onion, zucchini, hot peppers, chopped herbs, and garlic-lemon mixture in a blender or food processor. Pulse to make a chunky salsa-like mixture. Add water, or chicken or vegetable broth to thin to the consistency you like. Add a little salsa or chile sauce for more zip. Season to taste with salt and black pepper, more lemon juice, balsamic, or red wine vinegar. Chill the soup , if desired.

Serve sprinkled with more fresh herbs. Pass bowls of diced cucumber and finely chopped onion, and hot garlic croutons.

This glorious wealth of vegetables!

Does this happen every summer? This glorious wealth of vegetables! The mild-mannered and orderly garden we left in early July has turned into a jungle of wild exuberance…bean tendrils reaching into space and dangling fat green pods…tomato vines loaded with fruit and clamoring for new territory…cucumbers and squash taking over the pathways …corn waving like sparklers in the sky…Everyone is shouting for attention–Pick me! Pick me! And so I do. Bounty from the garden turns into sumptuous summer meals.

All this New-World produce–tomatoes, potatoes, beans, squash, corn, hot chiles and sweet peppers–begs for a Mexican meal, so that is a good place to start. I put on a pot of pinto beans to simmer and started to think about delicious things to cook on the grill and put in tortillas.

Grilled Tomato and Green Chile Salsa


This is so good, I feel like I’m in Mexico! You can make this on a stovetop griddle or under a broiler, but the grill is more fun and gives a smoky flavor.

Heat a charcoal fire or gas grill to medium. Wrap a head of garlic in foil and place it on the grill (or place 6-8 unpeeled individual cloves on an iron skillet over medium heat for about 15 minutes, turning occasionally until soft). Grill 6 to 8 red-ripe plum tomatoes, 5 to 6 minutes per side, until the skin is blistered and blackened in spots. Grill 1 or 2 green Anaheim chiles and/or 2 to 4 jalapeno or serrano chiles (or any other hot green chiles you might have) until blistered and softened (you can do this on a skillet, too). Cut a medium-size white onion into thick slices (or use large green onions with a bulb) and grill or skillet-roast about 10 minutes.

Pull the skins off the garlic cloves, remove the stems, seeds and loose skin from the chiles and put them in a large mortar or food processor. Mash them with a pestle, or pulse in the machine to finely chop. Add the onion and peeled tomatoes and chop until the salsa is the consistency you want–chunky or smooth. Add 1 or 2 tsp fresh lime juice or cider vinegar, 1/2 cup chopped cilantro leaves, and salt to taste.

Salsa Cruda/ Salsa Fresca

Fresh tomato salsa. Make it when the tomatoes are fully ripe and full of flavor. Make it with a sharp knife and a cutting board, or in a food processor if you must. Tomatoes, onions, chiles, and garlic–that’s the basics, and it’s all you need.

Cutting board method: Chop about 1 pound ripe tomatoes (I use 6-8 small plum tomatoes) into 1/4-inch dice. Dice a small red or white onion to make about 1/2 cup. Finely chop fresh hot green chiles (stemmed and seeded)…one, two, three or more jalapeno or serrano chiles for whatever heat you like. Mince some garlic to make about 1 Tbs. Toss it all together in a bowl and add 2 or 3 tsp fresh lime juice, salt to taste, and a handful chopped cilantro. Eat soon! It’s best eaten within a few hours.

Note: Salsa isn’t just for chips. Use it as a topping for grilled meat, chicken or fish… or eggplant with a bit of crumbled cheese…add it to a stir-fry of shrimp or a pan of scrambled eggs…or a salad of white beans and arugula…or black beans, corn, and roasted red pepper. When do you not want salsa?

Grilled Calabacitas


Calabacitas is a Mexican name for a squash and corn sauté with roasted chiles. It can be made as a sauté, but I like to grill these vegetables and toss them together with toasted cumin seed and a squeeze of lime.

Prepare a charcoal fire or heat a gas grill to medium.

Grill the vegetables: Cut 2 or 3 medium zucchini lengthwise into 1/2-inch slices or 6-8 wedges. Cut 2 small onions into quarters (hold them together with a toothpick). Coat the vegetables with vegetable or olive oil and sprinkle with kosher salt. Grill the zucchini and onions, 2 or 3 ears of corn in their husks and 2 whole green chiles (poblano or Anaheim or other mildly hot chiles) 5 to 6 minutes per side, until lightly charred outside and tender inside.

When done, chop the zucchini and onions, cut the corn from the cob, cut the peeled and seeded chiles into strips, and toss them all together. Add a tsp toasted cumin seed, a handful chopped cilantro leaves, a Tbs chopped fresh oregano or mint, a tsp or so fresh lime juice, and salt to taste.

Variations: To make Calabacitas as a sauté, heat 2 Tbs olive oil and 1 1/2 cups small-diced onion in a sauté pan or Dutch oven. Cook over medium-low heat, covered, for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Uncover, raise the heat to medium, and sauté another 3 to 4 minutes. Add 1 Tbs butter or oil to the pan and stir in 2 cups small-diced zucchini. Cook, stirring occasionally, 3 to 4 minutes. Stir in 2 generous cups fresh corn kernels-off-the-cob, 1 finely chopped garlic clove, and 1/2 tsp salt. Cook until the corn is tender, 3 to 4 minutes. Sprinkle with 1/2 tsp ground cumin seed and 1/2 tsp toasted whole cumin seed; cook 30 seconds. Before serving, top with some chopped mint and oregano leaves and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice. Note: Char-roast the poblano or other green chiles over a direct flame or under the broiler. Peel, seed, and cut the chiles into strips. Add to the sauté.

Mix any leftover Calabacitas with 1 1/2 cups cooked black beans and plenty of fresh herbs for a hearty salad. Dress with more lime juice or Cilantro- Lime Dressing (below).

Green Bean Salad with Cilantro-Lime Dressing

Green Bean Salad

I use skinny French beans (haricots verts) for this salad. A pound of beans (5 to 6 handfuls) will make 4 to 6 servings. Trim off the stem ends and boil the beans in salted water about 3 minutes, until tender-crisp. Scoop the beans out and place in a colander to cool.

Thinly slice a medium- size red onion. Toss the onion with the cooled green beans and sprinkle with kosher salt.

Make the dressing: Mash 1 or 2 garlic cloves with 1/4 tsp kosher salt to make a paste. Mix the garlic paste with 2 Tbs fresh lime juice, 1/4 cup salsa verde (green tomatillo salsa), and 1/2 cup olive oil. Whisk to combine and stir in 1/4 cup chopped cilantro leaves. Add salt and black pepper to taste.

Toss the beans and onion with several Tbs of dressing. Garnish with more chopped cilantro (or mint) and halved cherry tomatoes.

Note: this dressing is also delicious on a salad of shredded cabbage and carrot… or jicama, cucumber, and avocado.

Grilled Chicken with Yucatecan Marinade

Grilled Chicken

I love the flavors of this herby-citrusy marinade. The combination of fresh orange juice and lime juice, with the addition of the zest, tries to approximate the flavor of the wonderful sour oranges of Mexico. You can play around with the herbs: I use combinations of cilantro, oregano, marjoram, anise hyssop, lemon balm, and mint. The marinade is too good to save for grilling chicken–try it as a dip for cucumbers, summer squash, grilled eggplant…or melon!

Make the marinade (enough for 2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts or thighs): In a blender, combine 2 or 3 garlic cloves, 1/2 tsp salt, 1 tsp black pepper corns, 1 tsp toasted and crushed cumin seed, a big pinch ground cloves, 1/8 tsp cinnamon, 1 1/2 Tbs fresh oregano leaves, 2 or 3 Tbs fresh mint leaves, 3 Tbs fresh orange juice, 2 Tbs fresh lime juice, The zest from 1/2 orange and 1 lime, and 3 Tbs extra virgin olive oil. Puree smooth.

Other options: Add 1 fresh serrano or jalapeno, or 1 or more tsp red chile sauce or chipotle en adobo. Substitute 3 or 4 Tbs cilantro, lemon balm, anise hyssop, or Thai basil for the oregano and mint…or try other herbs.

You can leave the chicken pieces whole, or cut them into 1/2 to 3/4-inch chunks or strips to grill on skewers. Pour the marinade over the chicken and turn to coat well. Cover and refrigerate 1 up to 8 hours. .

Prepare a charcoal fire or heat a gas grill to medium (or heat the broiler on high). Soak skewers in water, if using. While the grill heats, take the chicken out of the refrigerator and let sit at room temperature. Sprinkle the meat lightly with salt. When the fire is ready, grill or broil the chicken, without moving, from 4 to 6 minutes (skewers will take less time), until dark brown grill marks appear. Flip and grill until cooked through–4 or 5 minutes more. Thigh meat may need an extra minute or so. Transfer to a cutting board and let rest 5 to 10 minutes. Cut the chicken into thin slices or remove from the skewers; place on a bed of thinly sliced onion and chopped arugula or salad greens, with a sprinkling of cilantro or mint leaves.

Serve with hot corn or flour tortillas.