Saturday, September 12, 2009

The Carrots are In - Vegetable Loaf Starring Carrots

Two years ago I had an epiphany. For most of my gardening life I walked by the rows of tiny carrot seedlings with a sense of guilt. I knew I wasn't going to get the tweezers and thin them as I should and that the big carrots I harvested in the fall would be either a) a function of natural selection, pushing their neighbors out of the way, or 2) a result of poor planting, the ones that shook into the aisles or just out of the line of the rest. But just as I'm a wimpy pruner, I'm a wimpy thinner.

Then, after reading Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, I began thinking about ways to extend the season so we could eat more local food for longer. (If you haven't had the pleasure of reading this terrific book, I'd highly suggest it. The premise is that Kingsolver and her family decide to eat local, not more than 60 miles from their home in West Viriginia, for a year). Back to my thoughts about extending my New England season. Mostly those thoughts revolved around extending beyond the frost. But what about harvesting earlier?

Oh yeah, the epiphany. It may seem obvious to many of you, but for me, I used to plant the carrots, weed the carrots (not thin the carrots), then harvest the carrots in October right around the first frost. That was it. So, when it occurred to me (please hold the no duhs) that I could thin by harvesting first baby carrots, then a little bigger carrots, and on up to great big giant carrots growing with nothing obscuring them. Ta Da. Epiphany. So, now we eat garden carrots from July 1 through sometime in February, about 2/3rds of the year.

BUT . . .

No matter how much we thin by harvesting in the summer, we have a ton of carrots in the fall, which we are starting to harvest now, one row at a time. Time for carrot cake, carrot soup and yes, this delicious veggie loaf whose main ingredient is, of course, carrots. And please take the word "loaf" as merely a suggestion. I've made this versatile recipe into patties for a July 4th barbeque with our first harvest, or into cupcake tins for individual servings, or even into a cake pan as well as the traditional loaf pan. Of course, if you make patties, you'll want to turn them after fifteen minutes or so and total bake time with be shortened to 30 minutes. You get the idea.

Vegetable Loaf

1 Heaping cup chopped onions
4 cloves garlic
5 cups grated carrots, packed
3 eggs, slighly beaten
1 1/2 cups breadcrumbs
1 3/4 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese
1/4 cup finely grated parmesan or romano cheese
3/4 cup slivered almonds
2 Tbs. butter
Salt, pepper

Variations: handful of fresh basil leaves, chopped or 1/2 cup spinach chopped

Saute garlic and onions in the butter until soft. Combine the rest of the ingredients in a big bowl. Stir in the onions. Bake in a buttered loaf pan, covered with foil, for 50-60 minutes at 350 until sides are brown and top is really firm.

Slice and serve.

Serving ideas: Try serving with roasted brussel sprouts and garlicky mashed potatoes for an alternative traditional dinner. Oh, and homemade applesauce, my kids like to dip their veggie loaf in applesauce ala potato pancakes. If you make them into patties, serve them on a bun with a barbeque aoli, lettuce, tomato and onions.


Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Stuffed Patty Pan Squash

In case you don't know what a patty pan is, look for a cross between a bright yellow flower-shape and a flying saucer. A patty pan is really just a weird-shaped summer squash, so treat it like a zucchini, not like a winter squash.

With all the June (and July) rains, we've got a bumper crop. The shape lends itself perfectly to being stuffed, where the patty pan becomes the vessel. But I already served the traditional risotto stuffing, or was it quinoa? Whatever, it was, sure it was yummy, but we had it only a couple weeks ago. That's the kind of thing my family only wants to eat once in a great while, so I needed to come up with something totally different to use some of these patty pans piling up on my counter. I did a google search and without even clicking into any of the results, I saw the words sausage and breadcrumbs. That was enough for me. I had a plan.

WAIT WAIT WAIT. I know what you're thinking. Heidi? Sausage? NO WAY.

But here's the thing, last year I discovered this great SOY sausage, made by Lightlife (right in Turners Falls) and have used it in a number of traditional recipes that call for sausage. As a child growing up in a conservative Jewish family, we never ate sausage so I've never tried the actual thing, but Frank, growing up Italian, sure did. He loves being able to eat these grilled with peppers and onions, sauteed or roasted. And I put it in the Thanksgiving stuffing last year (I'll definitely blog this one when the time comes), with pecans and mushrooms. It was AWESOME. My favorite is grilled soy sausage, fresh garlic and broccoli on the pizza. So, there is a time and place for fake sausage.

For this one, I used the Italian Seasoning versus the Chorizo flavored. To let you know how yummy this was, I made it in the afternoon so I could take my kids to the park. They wanted a snack before we went and they wore me down to give them two earth balls (a little chocolate ball wrapped in foil colored like the earth). The extra filling was on the counter, still in the pan. Yarrow stood there taking handfuls of the filling in one hand, nibbling on her candy in the other. I asked which she liked more, she said without hesitation, the filling.

Here's how it goes:

4 Patty Pan Squash
Olive oil
One package Lightlife Soy Sausage, Italian Seasonings
Five cloves garlic, minced
One large onion, chopped small
One cup breadcrumbs
1/4 cup finely grated romano cheese

Preheat oven to 350. Wash the patty pans and cut off the top to use as the lid of your vessel. Scoop out seeds and some flesh to create a "bowl" for your stuffing. You can also scoop a little flesh out of the tops to make additional room for filling. Leave a good 1/2 inch of the flesh to 1) give your vessel stability and 2) to eat with the filling. Place right side up in a roasting pan or pyrex dish with a little olive oil and cover with foil. Roast for 30-40 minutes. Let cool while you make your filling.

For filling:
Saute onion, garlic, soy sausage, salt and pepper to taste in olive oil until the soy sausage is nicely browning. Remove from heat. Let sit 10 minutes or so, then stir in breadcrumbs and cheese. Taste, check seasonings.

Spoon filling into squashes piling them slightly higher than each squash. Then put the lid on. Put them back in the pan you roasted them in. Add a 1/2 cup water to the bottom. Cover with foil again. Put them back in the oven for 45 minutes. Voila.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Canning Tomatoes and Classic Italian Tomato Sauce

Pretty much anything home grown is, no comparison, yummier than anything you can buy. But there is hardly anything that spans a greater chasm than a can of store bought tomatoes and a beautiful jar of stewed or pureed tomatoes grown in your garden or nearby farm. And it is so easy. I put up about a 100 jars a year, about 20 at a time. About 95 of those jars I puree. That way when I'm ready for sauce, my jars are ready. The other five, I roast the tomatoes with a little olive oil, sliced garlic and basil leaves in the oven, instead of cooking them down on the stove, then I jar the roasted tomatoes directly. These I'll use these in those dishes that I want a stewed tomato and not the puree. And the roasted tomatoes take on an unusually deep flavor. One year my blender broke and I had to put up 25 or so jars stewed while I replaced my blender. It was these jars that were left at the end of the year, because it was a pain to pull out the blender everytime I wanted to make sauce. So when people ask me why I spend the time the puree, that's it. I make a lot of sauce and I want my tomatoes to be ready to go.

Canning Tomatoes

1. Put tomatoes in sink filled with cool water to clean off any dirt.
2. Core and cut tomatoes into quarters, cutting out any bad spots. Put in a pot large enough for all your tomatoes with room to stir. (A note about skins. I'm always asked about taking off the skins and surely Grandma Gerarda did blanch and peel, but much of the tomatoes flavor and nutrition is in the skin and when you puree, you won't ever see or taste the skin anyway, so leave it on, and know that Grandma would do it this way if she were still around to try my sauce.)
3. Cook on low, stirring from the bottom every 10 or 15 minutes at the beginning, then every hour. It will start getting really soupy. Cook until tomatoes have completely lost their shape. For a lot of tomatoes, say a 1/2 bushel, I cook them for probably two to two and half hours. For less, like 20-30 tomatoes, it will go quicker.
4. Wash jars and make sure they're free of imperfections, especially along the edge.
5. The idea is to put hot liquid into a hot jar. So, put a pan with a couple inches of water on the stove on medium. Keep it simmering as you process your jars. Put the lids face down in the pan of simmering water. (Not the rims) Then put a few jars opening down in the simmering pan. Just scooch around the lids until you can fit the jars.
6. In batches, puree the stewed tomatoes, pour into hot jars (use a wide mouth funnel), wipe the rim with a paper napkin to remove any tomatoes that may interfere with the jars sealing properly, then using a tongs, place a lid on each jar, then tighten the rim around the top of the jar. I don't tighten mine too much or I end up having to wack it with a knife to get it open and then you can't use the rim again next year.
7. Place sealed jars of pureed tomatoes in a boiling canner so that the water comes up to the top of the jars, or within an inch (so that as it boils, the water will bubble up to the top of the jars). Boil the jars for 35 minutes.
8. Remove jars to cool on a dry cloth on the countertop. You can make sure that the jars are sealed by pressing on the middle of the lid. If it is firmly down, your good. If it gives at all, wait until the jars cool. If the lid still hasn't sucked down, take the rim off and check your seal. If it isn't sealed, simply wipe the edge of the jar, wide off the lid and dry thoroughly, put it back on the jar, put the rim back on and reboil it in the canner.

Now, what do I do with those 100 jars of tomatoes? Mostly, I make sauce. Here's how.

Classic Italian Tomato Sauce

1 Head fresh garlic, diced small or minced
1 large onion, diced
1 carrot cut into 2 inch spears, or four or five baby carrots cut in half
Olive Oil
Four quarts of canned pureed tomatoes

Saute garlic, onion and carrots in olive oil in large pot until the onions are transluscent before they begin to get brown. Add jars of tomatoes. Cook on low for several hours covered. Take cover off and continue to simmer on low for another 30 minutes to an hour until you achieve the desired consistency. You'll notice that I don't add salt or pepper. Don't do it. Tomatoes are super delicate and they absolutely DO NOT need salt and pepper to bring out their flavor. In my opinion, this ruins all those commercial sauces out there. Let this perfect blend of flavors work their magic. Add a little really good grated romano on top of the pasta and voila (whoops I don't speak Italian), you've got the perfect dinner.