Category Archives: Recipes

Tilapia Fish Casserole for an Autumn Supper

IMG_0399Nowadays, in central Maine, it is dark by 5 p.m., and the days of barbecues and drinks on the patio are over for another year. I must admit that I miss those lovely warm evenings where we could sit outside and listen to the loons, owls, and other night noises.

Still, autumn has its consolations, and one of them is that the nights are now cool enough to enjoy warm, bubbly casseroles for supper. Over the years, I have developed several sauces for casseroles that don’t involve canned cream of anything. (In the past, I’ve written about my aversion to casseroles with canned cream of mushroom soup. Enough said.) The results, as my Yankee husband Clif might put it, are not too bad.

Chicken and vegetables are my usual choice of fillings for casseroles, but recently I started wondering how a fish casserole would taste. What would be the components?

First, of course, the fish, and here I am going to be somewhat of a noodge and urge readers to stay away from wild fish, which we humans are eating at such an alarming rate that the fish populations are seriously depleted. According to the marine biologist Sylvia Earle, “The few fish that really are good choices, I think, are catfish, tilapia and the variations on the theme of carp, the plant-eating creatures that…grow fast. They taste good.”

Accordingly, I chose tilapia, plant-eating fish that are grown in a closed system. The fish is mild but tasty and perfect for a casserole. (The leftovers are also mighty good as fish tacos. Thanks, Mary Jane, for showing me how to make them!)

Along with the fish there would be rice and petite peas. (Mushrooms, carrots, and/or celery would also be delicious, but for my first venture with this recipe, I decided to keep it simple.)

The sauce I would use for a binder would be a simple white sauce with the addition of garlic, dill, and cheese. I guess you could call it a cheesy dill sauce. For the starch, I used rice, which somehow just seems to go with fish.

A tip I learned from the chef Mario Batali was to heat the milk ahead of time before making a white sauce. This is an excellent tip and really cuts down on the time spent stirring the sauce.

As fish cooks quickly, I did not cook the fish ahead of time, the way I would with, say, chicken. The raw fish was cut into bite-sized chunks and laid on top of the rice. Next came the peas, some salt and pepper, more rice, and the white sauce. What about the top? Bread crumbs, of course, with gives a pleasing crunch to the casserole.

The results? “Pretty darned good,” Clif said.

Good enough for company?

“Yes.”

So there you have it—a fish casserole made with sustainable tilapia and a cheesy dill sauce that is not only a good supper for the family but is also good enough for company.

Pretty darned good, indeed.

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Fish Casserole with a Cheesy Dill Sauce
Serves 4 or 5

Ingredients

For the white sauce

  • 4 tablespoons of butter
  • 4 tablespoons of flour
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced
  • 2 cups of hot milk
  • 1 cup of grated cheese (I used cheddar, my go-to cheese)
  • 1 teaspoon of dried dill
  • Salt and pepper to taste

For the rest of the casserole

  • 1/2 pound of tilapia, cut in chunks
  • 1 (1/2) cups cooked petite peas (As noted above, many other vegetables could be added or substituted, as you like it.)
  • 3 cups of cooked rice
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • 2 slices of bread, torn into crumbs

Directions

For the white sauce

  1. Melt the butter and add the garlic, letting it sizzle for about 30 seconds. Add the flour and wisk for a minute or two until the roux is bubbly.
  2. Wisk in the hot milk then stir with a spoon until a line forms on the back of the spoon.
  3. Stir in the dill.
  4. Add the grated cheese and stir until melted.
  5. Taste and add salt and pepper, as desired.

For the casserole

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Butter a large casserole dish.
  3. Put half the rice in the dish.
  4. Arrange all the tilapia chunks on the rice.
  5. Sprinkle the peas or whatever vegetables you are using on top of the fish.
  6. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
  7. Spread the rest of the rice on top of the fish and peas.
  8. Pour the cheesy dill sauce on top of the rice.
  9. Top with the bread crumbs.
  10. Bake for forty minutes or until bubbly around the edges.

Not-So-Wordless Wednesday: Back to Reality After the Final Retirement Fête

Clif, Mike, Shannon, and Dee's hand
Clif, Mike, Shannon, and Dee’s hand

Last weekend we had the final retirement fête for Clif. Dee came home from New York, and Clif was treated to a meal at the Great Impasta in Brunswick. As the accompanying picture indicates, Clf was toasted as well. May he have a long, healthy, happy, and creative retirement.

Dee left yesterday, and her extended stay gave all of us a mini-vacation. It also gave us a chance to celebrate Dee’s birthday, which is at the end of the month. At her request, I made cheddar cheese soup from a recipe I have adapted from a Moosewood cookbook. The whole family loves it, and this soup is rich and satisfying, just perfect for special occasions. I also made a double batch of biscuits—another request from Dee—and a salad with romaine lettuce, roasted walnuts, feta, and sliced apples rounded out the meal. Naturally there was cake. Chocolate.

While Dee was here, we saw a couple of movies. One—Martian—was very good, and the other—Maze Runner—was all right.

Now, it’s back to reality. This afternoon, I have a dental appointment so that I can have a permanent crown installed. (Having six crowns should certainly make me a queen, don’t you think?) While I am feeling much, much better, I have an annoying dry cough that will not go with keeping my mouth open for nearly an hour while my dentist drills and installs the permanent crown.

I have doused myself with Benadryl, and my mouth is sweet from too many cough drops. I’ll take another Benadryl just before I leave, and Clif will be driving in case I get drowsy.

Normally, I would have canceled the appointment, but our dental insurance runs out at the end of the month, and the crown is expensive.  I don’t want to pay out-of-pocket for it.

Never a dull moment at the little house in the big woods.

 

 

Pasta Frittata: An Easy Recipe for When You’re Not Feeling Very Well and You’re Tired of Chicken Noodle Soup

Let’s just say that with the little flu Clif and I have “shared” for the past week, cooking has not exactly been inspired at the little house in the big woods. For two or three days, I didn’t feel like eating much of anything: toast, tea, and my standby when I’m sick—Campbell’s Chicken Noodle Soup, which I will not touch when I’m well. Just as I started to recover, Clif caught what I had, and his normally robust interest in food dropped sharply.

By mid-week, I was done with Chicken Noodle Soup. I was ready for something filling yet comforting and very easy to make. Although I felt better, I wasn’t up to tackling a major cooking project. Clif, who was two days behind me in terms of wellness, was even less motivated to cook.

And who should come to the rescue, just when I needed it most? None other than the inimitable Mark Bittman, a journalist and food writer for the New York Times. (Bittman has recently left the New York Times to be a Fellow at the Union of Concerned Scientists.) On Facebook, bless its heart, I saw Bittman’s recipe for Pasta Frittata, and it was exactly what I wanted—-simple and not too spicy with only a handful of ingredients, all of which I had. 

Rather than cutting up spaghetti or linguine, I just used macaroni. No cutting necessary. Because Clif and I still felt under the weather, I made the most basic frittata imaginable—pasta, eggs, butter (olive oil could be used instead), Parmesan cheese, and salt and pepper—and I followed Bittman’s instructions for cooking the frittata partly on top of the stove and partly in the oven.

Readers, the frittata came out beautifully. It was just what we wanted. I cut up some of Farmer Kev’s carrots, boiled them, and served them as a side. This was the ultimate comfort food—easy to digest, delicious, and nutritious.

Best of all, like a quiche—surely the frittata’s cousin—it reheated well and was just as good leftover as it was when originally made. Who could ask for anything more?

Well, maybe I could. Next time I make it, I will add this and that to the frittata to make it a more substantial dish. Chicken sausage, sweet red peppers, and mushrooms would all be possibilities. Fresh basil or dried oregano, depending on the season, would also be good additions. I would also try substituting cheddar for the Parmesan in the frittata but still sprinkle Parmesan on top when it came out.

In fact, with the variations, I think this frittata would be good enough for company, either as a light main meal served with a salad and crusty bread or as an appetizer for a party featuring nibbles and nuts.

Either way, this frittata is a definite make again for when we are both feeling better.

On top of the stove to set the bottom
On top of the stove to set the bottom

 

Into the oven to set the bottom
Into the oven to set the bottom

 

Done!
Done!

 

Frittata with cooked carrots and sweet gherkins
Frittata with cooked carrots and sweet gherkins

Bring on the Chicken Casserole, but Hold the Canned Cream of Mushroom Soup

IMG_2435A week or so ago, when I was reading Gladys Taber’s Harvest at Stillmeadow, I came across one of her original recipes for a chicken casserole. She listed the layered ingredients: Cooked chicken; carrots or peas; rice or potatoes; tomatoes; cheese; and bread crumbs. So far, so good. But then came the dreaded ingredient—canned cream of mushroom soup.

I know. Gladys was a cook of her time, just as we are cooks in our own time, but canned cream of mushroom soup is a step back that I cannot take. My own mother was a fan of this canned soup, and although she was a a terrific baker, she used cream of mushroom soup with an alarming frequency in her main meals. Even as a child, I didn’t like it, and my heart would sink when I learned that dinner was another one of my mother’s concoctions, which all revolved around the canned cream of mushroom soup and usually had noodles, some kind of protein, and canned vegetables.

The worst was ground beef, macaroni, Veg-all, and cream of mushroom soup. I can still picture it. I can still remember the taste. And it turned me off casseroles for a long, long time.

Lately, though, I have reconsidered my anti-casserole stance. If they are made with real ingredients, say, a white sauce or a homemade gravy rather than a canned soup, then casseroles can be pretty tasty. They are also economical, using up the last bits of cooked chicken, carrots, and potatoes from a previous meal.

So with Gladys’s recipe, I began to think about substitutions for the cream of mushroom soup. I could make a garlic and parsley white sauce, which is tasty over fish as well as a good binder for casseroles. Or, I could get clever and make a gravy from a stock simmered in a slow-cooker, leftover from a meal featuring chicken, potatoes, and carrots. If I were really clever, then I could cook extra vegetables and have pretty much everything I needed for the casserole the next day.

And that is exactly what I did. On one day, I cut up plenty of Farmer Kev’s carrots and potatoes, and filled the bottom of the slow-cooker, taking care to leave enough room for the little chicken, which weighed about four pounds. (This was a by-guess-and-by-golly type of thing. I just peeled and chopped potatoes and carrots until I had a goodly amount.) I added a cup of warm water and sprinkled salt, pepper, dried thyme, and sage over the vegetables. The chicken went on top, and I sprinkled more salt, pepper, thyme, and sage over it. I also minced a large clove of garlic and sprinkled that over the chicken. (Onion could be substituted for the garlic.) On went the cover, and voilà, in five hours cooked on high, we had a lovely chicken dinner.

When it comes to vegetables cooked with chicken, Clif shows little restraint, and I knew that if I wanted enough potatoes and carrots for the following night, then I would have to Employ a Strategy. This I did, with biscuits, thus ensuring there would be plenty of vegetables for the casserole. After we were done eating, I poured the stock into a bowl and tucked it in the refrigerator.  I also did this, of course, with the leftover chicken and vegetables.

The next day, this casserole went together pretty darned fast. No, making a gravy from stock is not as quick as opening a can of cream of mushroom soup, but it doesn’t take that long, and it sure tastes better. I skimmed the chicken fat from the top. (Sorry schmaltz lovers, but I prefer butter. Must be the Franco in me.) In a saucepan, I heated the stock and strained it. In another saucepan, I melted four tablespoons of butter and whisked in four tablespoons of flour. I poured in the hot stock, whisked and stirred, and within a few minutes, I had a delicious gravy for the casserole.

A word about the tomato in this casserole. Initially, I wasn’t sure if I wanted one or not, but as I had a beautiful ripe tomato, courtesy of Farmer Kev, I decided to add it. I’m glad I did. The acidic tomato added a pleasant tang to the smooth chicken, vegetables, and gravy mixture. When the fresh tomatoes have gone by and I make this casserole again, I will add a small can of diced tomatoes, drained.

Chicken Casserole with Homemade Gravy
Adapted from a recipe by Gladys Taber

Ingredients

  • 2 cups of leftover chicken, cut in chunks
  • 1(1/2) cups of leftover potatoes and carrots, cut in small chunks
  • 1 large tomato, cut in chunks.
  • 1 cup of grated cheese
  • 2 slices of bread, torn into small bits for bread crumbs
  • 2 cups of chicken stock—add milk if there isn’t quite enough
  • 4 tablespoons of butter
  • 4 tablespoons of flour
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Layer the chicken on the bottom of a large casserole dish.
  3. Put the potatoes and carrots on top of the chicken.
  4. Add the tomatoes.
  5. Sprinkle with the grated cheese.
  6. Pour the gravy onto the casserole.
  7. Top with bread crumbs.
  8. Bake for 45 minutes or until the casserole is bubbling hot.
  9. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Directions for the gravy

  1. Skim off chicken fat from the chicken stock reserved from the slow-cooker meal you made a night or two before. (If shmaltz is your thing, then save it for the roux. If not, discard it.)
  2. Heat the stock in a large saucepan.
  3. Strain it into a bowl and then measure to be sure you have 2 cups. Add a little milk if you don’t. Return the stock to the saucepan and heat until very hot. (The hot stock will make the gravy come together more quickly.)
  4. In another large saucepan, melt 4 tablespoons of butter (or a combination of butter and chicken fat).
  5. Whisk in four tablespoons of flour and stir until the mixture bubbles a little.
  6. Pour the hot stock into the roux. Whisk and stir until thickened. The gravy will be done when it leaves a line on the back of a spoon.

 

 

You Say Tomato, I Say Roasted Tomato Soup

IMG_2177Thanks to the warm weather we’ve had this September, the tomatoes are coming in full force. For the past few weeks in my CSA share from Farmer Kev, there has been a generous allotment of tomatoes. I hate to play favorites, but I can’t help it. I love tomatoes, and I never come to resent them the way I do, say, greens or zucchini, both of which can seem like a curse rather than a blessing when they are coming in with such vigor that you wonder what in the world you are going to do with them.

Not so with tomatoes. They can be eaten raw, which this time of year, is my favorite way of eating tomatoes. In fact for my lunch today, I had two poached eggs on top of two large slices of tomatoes. What a lovely, juicy mess.

Tomatoes, of course, can be cooked down into a sauce. Or added to soups. Or a casserole, which I plan on doing next week when I make a chicken, carrot, potato, and tomato casserole, held together with a sauce made from the chicken drippings and topped with buttered bread crumbs.

Then there is tomato soup, one of my favorite soups. (No surprise there, given how much I love tomatoes.) Finally, the weather has become cool enough for soup, and the other day, when I opened the refrigerator and surveyed the big bowl bowl of tomatoes, I thought, “tomato soup.”

But first I roasted the tomatoes, which give the soup a sweet, rich flavor. It only takes forty-five minutes or so to roast them, and then into the stockpot they go. Add a cup of water. Some onion and garlic. A bouquet garni of oregano, thyme, and parsley. (Alas, my sage succumbed to tiny marauding caterpillars.)

Bouquet garni—herbs tied in a bundle—is one of my favorite ways to use herbs with tiny leaves, such as thyme. All you do is clump the herbs together, wrap them with thread, and tie the bundle.  Drop it into the soup stock, and let the herbs simmer with the onion and garlic. Then, when the simmering is done, use a slotted spoon to remove the garni.  Voilà! You have the lovely infusion of the herbs without the tedious chore of plucking and chopping.

However, I didn’t totally escape the chore of chopping herbs because after the soup was blended and a cup of milk was added, I finished the soup with fresh basil, which added another dimension to this already flavorful soup.

Clif always likes soup to have “something” in it, and he duly added leftover macaroni to his bowl. Not me. I wanted to eat the soup just as it was—smooth, creamy, with the overtones of basil, and the undertones of the bouquet garni.

Roasted Tomato Soup with Herbs

Ingredients

For roasting the tomatoes

  • 6 pounds of tomatoes—washed and dried and with the stems removed
  • Olive oil for brushing on the tomatoes and the baking sheet
  • Kosher salt, for sprinkling on the tomatoes

For the soup

  • 1 medium onion, cut in half
  • 4 cloves of coarsely chopped garlic
  • 1 boquet garni—I used about 5 sprigs of thyme, several springs of oregano, and several springs of parsley
  • 1 cup of water
  • 1 cup of milk
  • 1 tablespoon of sugar
  • 3 tablespoons of chopped fresh basil
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

For roasting the tomatoes

  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees
  • Cut tomatoes in half and place cut side up on a baking sheet brushed with olive oil
  • Brush olive oil on the tomato halves
  • Sprinkle with kosher salt, about 1 tablespoon
  • Roast for 45 minutes or until the tomatoes are very soft and can easily be pierced with a fork
  • Let the tomatoes cool and then remove the skins

For the soup

  • Put the roasted tomatoes into a large stockpot.
  • Stir in 1 cup of water and 1 tablespoon of sugar
  • Add the onion halves, the chopped garlic, and the bouquet garni
  • Let simmer for at least 45 minutes, until the onion is very soft
  • Remove the onion halves and bouquet garni with a slotted spoon
  • Blend the soup so that it is smooth
  • Stir in 1 cup of milk and salt and pepper to taste
  • Heat until it is very hot
  • Just before serving, stir in the basil
  • Serves 4 or 6, depending on appetite

 

La Dolce Vita: Roasted Tomato Sauce with Peppers and Sausage

IMG_2028Yesterday, I groused about the extreme heat we’ve been having this September, but I must grudgingly admit that it is very pleasant to still be able to eat supper on the patio and to not wear either sweater or sweatshirt when doing so. This is especially true if you are eating roasted tomato sauce made with tomatoes you picked that very afternoon. Add sausage and peppers to the sauce. Spoon over the pasta of your choice. Serve with a salad made with lettuce and carrots from Farmer Kev’s garden.

What more could you ask for? A glass of red wine? Why, yes, indeed. A meal like that, eaten outside on a warm night, certainly fits my idea of la dolce vita.

This tomato sauce, which can really only be made once a year when the tomatoes are at their ripest, is so good that last night Clif said, “You would have to pay a lot to get a meal like this in a restaurant.”

That is high, high praise coming from my Yankee husband, whose usual comment is “pretty darned good.” Let’s just say that last night at the little house in the big woods, the cook was pretty darned happy.

I made the sauce using Juliet tomatoes, which Johnny’s Selected Seeds describes as a “mini-roma” that has a “[d]elicious, rich tomato flavor for salads, great salsa, and fresh pasta sauce. ” This description is no exaggeration. I’ve made roasted tomato sauce with romas, and the sauce is perfectly good. But with the fair Juliet, well, it makes even a Yankee husband go beyond his usual understated words of praise. However, I have looked at several recipes online, and non-roma tomatoes are also used. So any fresh tomato will do. (I have a huge bowl filled with Farmer Kev tomatoes that are just begging to be made into a roasted sauce.)

Now comes the big question: What to do with the skins and seeds? Neither Clif nor I mind the skin and seeds of Juliet, and I blend the roasted tomatoes just as they are. With larger tomatoes, I might remove the skins, but I would leave the seeds. For those who don’t like or can’t eat seeds, the sauce could be strained.

I have loads of fresh oregano in my garden, and I sprinkle a generous amount of the herb, along with kosher salt,  on the tomatoes before roasting. Dried oregano could be substituted, but in lesser amounts.

After roasting, I blend the tomatoes in a food processor. The sauce is then sautéed with garlic and olive oil, and you could stop right there.  However, last night, I added peppers and chicken sausage, but you could add zucchini or summer squash. Or onions. Or meat balls. Spoon the sauce over pasta or roasted eggplant. Or a thick, chewy bread.

If it’s warm enough, eat outside. If not, eat inside. Either way, it’s la dolce vita when you have a sauce this good.

Roasted Tomato Sauce
Adapted from a recipe from Epicurious

Ingredients

  • 4 pounds of fresh tomatoes
  • 3 tablespoons of olive oil and a little more for oiling the pans
  • 5 tablespoons of chopped oregano (Dried oregano can also be used but in much lesser amounts, say, a teaspoon or so.)
  • Kosher salt, enough to sprinkle on the tomatoes, about a tablespoon
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced, and about a tablespoon of oil for sautéing after the tomatoes have been roasted
  • Peppers, sausage, zucchini, summer squash (These ingredients are optional and are sautéed with the garlic.)

Directions

  1. Arrange racks in the oven so that one is in the middle and the other is above it.
  2. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
  3. Wash the tomatoes, dry, and remove the stems.
  4. Cut them in half and put them in a large mixing bowl.
  5. Stir the 3 tablespoons of olive oil into the tomatoes.
  6. Place the tomatoes, cut side up, on 2 oiled baking sheets.
  7. Sprinkle with kosher salt and chopped oregano.
  8. Place baking sheets on racks and set timer for 20 minutes. When the timer goes off, switch the sheets so that the sheet on the top rack is in the middle, and the sheet on the middle rack is now on the top. Roast for another 20 minutes or until the tomatoes are very soft.
  9. Let the tomatoes cool on the baking sheets. When they are cool, scoop the tomatoes into a blender or food processor and blend into a sauce.
  10. In a large skillet, heat a tablespoon of olive oil. Sauté the peppers, sausage, and/or squash, if using. When the vegetables are soft, add the garlic and sauté for 30 seconds. Add the blended tomatoes.
  11. Simmer the sauce for at least a half-hour or until the sauce reaches a desired thickness. (Tomato paste could be added if the sauce seems too thin, but that should be a last resort. You don’t want anything to interfere with the lovely, fresh taste of the tomatoes.)
  12. Serves 4 or 6, depending upon appetite.

 

We Got the Beet!

A busy, busy week but a fun one. Dee is visiting from New York, and as she is a movie buff, we’ve made quite a few trips to Railroad Square Cinema in Waterville.  They’ve had a terrific line-up of movies, and all four that we saw were good. (We saw Mr. Holmes, Mistress America, A Walk in the Woods, and Phoenix.)

With all this fun, there hasn’t been much time for blogging, but I did want to slip in a recipe, as promised. This week’s—a beet fajita—is a quick one that incorporates the egg technique used in the fried-rice recipe I posted a while back. That is, make a well in the center of the ingredients, pour in the beaten eggs, let the eggs set, scramble them, and blend them in with the rest of the ingredients, which have been sautéed  until soft.

Like most fajitas, this one is easy to prepare, and it doesn’t have many ingredients—beets, corn, garlic, egg, and cheese. For a smoother flavor, I dry roast the garlic in a skillet before peeling and chopping the clove. (I also do this for any recipe that calls for raw garlic.)

Another good point about this recipe is that even if—ahem—beets are not your favorite vegetable, they are tasty prepared this way. These fajitas didn’t get a “pretty darned good” from Clif, but that is his highest praise reserved for only a few special dishes. The fajitas did, however, merit a “not too bad,” which means he liked it well enough to go back for seconds.

Not too bad, indeed, for a husband who is not too fond of beets.

Roast the garlic for a smoother flavor
Roast the garlic for a smoother flavor

 

Mise en place
Mise en place

 

Stir-fry the beets and corn
Sauté the beets and corn

 

Make a well for the egg
Make a well for the egg

 

Bon appetit!
Bon appetit!

 

Beet Fajitas
Makes 4 fajitas

Ingredients

  • 1 medium raw beet, peeled and grated
  • 1/2 cup cooked corn
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil for sautéing
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup of grated cheese (Monterrey Jack is my favorite for fajitas.)
  • 1/4 cup of chopped parsley, for a garnish (Optional)
  • 4 fajita tortillas

Directions

  1.  Heat the oil in a skillet. Add the corn and the grated beets and sauté until the beets are soft, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté for 30 seconds.
  2. Make a well in the center of the ingredients. Pour in the beaten egg, let set, and then scramble. Once the egg is scrambled, mix it in with the beets, corn, and garlic.
  3. Warm the tortillas according to the directions on the package.
  4. Spoon the beet mixture into the tortilla shells and top with grated cheese. Sprinkle with parsley, if using.
  5. Rice is a good side for this meal.

A Quick Pasta Sauce for When You Are Just Sick and Tired of the Hot, Humid Weather

IMG_1714All right. Here it is September 3, and yesterday the weather was so sweltering and humid that by mid-afternoon all I could hold in my mind was the next chore on my list—I just couldn’t think ahead—and it was so freaking hot that from time to time I had to wipe my sweating face with a cool wash cloth.

Oh fall, where art thou? The leaves are starting to change, the apples are turning red, the goldenrod and asters are in bloom.  It is dark by 8 p.m. But somehow, the weather doesn’t have enough sense to turn the page and follow the season. Temperature wise, despite all the signs of fall, we are in mid-summer.

To a lifelong Mainer, is this very, very weird? You’d better believe it.

But the larger problem, of course, is what to make for supper on a day when by late afternoon all you want to do is grab some ice water with lime, The New Yorker, and an apple and head to the patio. Supper is the last thing you want to think about.

Fortunately, I have a few tricks to fall back on, and one of them is an easy pasta sauce using a 28-ounce can of Muir Glen’s crushed tomatoes with basil, some garlic, some green peppers, and some summer squash. Add, say, tortellini and broiled olive-oil toast, and you have a pretty good meal that comes together in a flash. (Especially when you have made said sauce a week or two before and have frozen some of it for future use.  Oh, happy freezer!)

But even if you haven’t, this sauce is so easy to make—and like most of the food I cook—so versatile that even on a hot day it isn’t too much trouble. I used garlic, peppers, and summer squash. You could use onion, sausage, or ground beef. Or zucchini. Or eggplant. Or whatever combination you like.

Get all the vegetables ready. For my sauce, I minced three cloves of garlic and cut one green pepper and one small summer squash in large chunks. In a skillet, I heated one tablespoon of olive oil and added the squash and peppers, sautéing them until they were just barely soft. I added the garlic and sautéed it for 30 seconds or so. Last came the tomatoes with basil. I turned the heat to low, covered the skillet, and let everything simmer for at least forty-five minutes.

Add cooked pasta, and Voilà. Supper on a hot night.

Clif and I took our plates out to the patio. A bottle of white wine came with us. As the dark settled over the backyard, we heard the crickets sing. In the dim woods, a pair of barred owls called to each other as they hunted, and Clif and I smiled as we listened to them.

After that nice supper and a couple of glasses of wine, well, the hot day didn’t seem so bad.

Nevertheless, fall can come anytime now. We are certainly ready.

 

End of August: Tomato and Zucchini Galette

IMG_1520Finally, finally the heavy humidity has cleared. There was a downpour last night—yet again—but this time the rain took away the humidity. Today is bright, sunny, dry, a little cool even, which is the way August is supposed to be. Especially the end of August.

No more of my complaining to Clif: “If I had wanted tropical weather, then I would have moved to the tropics.”

I can only hope that the hot, humid weather is behind us as we move to September, which in the past few years has become one of the nicest months in Maine. (August once held that honor, but those days seem to be gone.)

Despite the heat and humidity, or maybe because of it, the tomatoes are flourishing and so is the basil. In truth, I have never grown such lush, healthy basil, and I am thrilled to have it. Basil is my favorite herb.

The zucchini, of course, seems to be growing like a house afire, and I have noticed that in my CSA bin, the zucchinis are considerably bigger than they were a few weeks ago. They are not too big to resent. Not yet. But I expect that day is coming.

Fresh garlic has made its appearance in the CSA bin, and I never, ever resent garlic. It keeps beautifully, and it enhances so many dishes.

Tomatoes. Garlic, Zucchini. Basil. What to do, what to do?

How about adding some fresh mozzarella and making a tomato and zucchini galette? That’s just what I did, and along with a Swiss chard and shredded carrot salad, it made a mighty fine late summer meal.

A note about the tomatoes for the galette: Tomatoes, of course, are watery, and this is not necessarily a good fit with pie dough. I used a variety called Juliet, which grows in my own little garden. It is a small roma-like tomato and does well with only six hours of sun. It is not as watery as other tomatoes, and I would recommend using either roma or cherry tomatoes for a galette.  One suggestion I have read is to slice the tomatoes, put them on paper towels, salt them, and let them drain for about twenty minutes. I didn’t do this for the galette I made last night, but I will probably do it next time.

A note about the zucchini: I didn’t sauté it before using it in the galette. I just chopped the zucchini into small pieces, mixed it with olive oil, garlic, basil, cheese, and tomatoes, and it was just fine.

Anything else to mention? Ah, yes. The pie crust. I enjoy making pie crust, and I am not too bad at it, if I do say so myself. But for those who hate to make pie crust or just don’t have the time, by all means go out and by the pre-made crusts. There are some pretty good ones out there, and there is no need to deprive yourself of galette if all that is holding you back is making pie dough.

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Tomato and Zucchini Galette
Makes one galette, which will feed three or four people,  depending on appetite and on what else is being served.

Ingredients

For the pie dough

  • 1 cup of flour
  • 6 tablespoons of shortening
  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt
  • 1/4 cup of cold water (I let the water run for a while before using it.)

For the filling

  • 1 cup of sliced tomatoes
  • 1 cup of zucchini, cut in large chunks
  • 1 cup of sliced, fresh mozzarella cheese
  • 2 tablespoons of chopped basil
  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

Preheat the oven to 425°

For the pie dough

  1. In a large bowl, combine the flour and salt. Mix well. Add the six tablespoons of shortening. With a fork or pastry blender, cut the shortening into the flour until it is in pea-sized pieces (Someday I will do a pie dough tutorial. I promise.)
  2. Add the water all at once, and with a large spoon mix until the dough forms a ball. Do not overmix. Too much handling makes tough pie dough.
  3. On a floured cloth or surface, roll out the pie dough into a large circle.
  4. By either folding it in half or in quarters, transfer the dough to a baking sheet. Unfold so that is a full circle.

For the filling

  1. In a medium-sized mixing bowl combine the tomatoes, zucchini, mozzarella, olive oil, garlic, basil, and salt and pepper. Mix well.
  2. Place the filling in the center of the pie dough on the baking sheet. Make sure there is about a two-inch border.
  3. In small sections, fold and crimp the dough over the filling. It is fine for the edges to look rough. This is a galette, a rustic dish.
  4. Bake for 25 or 30 minutes until the galette is golden brown.
  5. Let cool for at least 5 minutes before slicing.

Variation on a Theme: Zucchini, Garlic, and Basil Quiche with a Dash of The Big Chill

IMG_0555Once a month, Clif and I host a movie night at our house. We are movie buffs, and we have three friends who are just as keen on movies as we are. It’s a great inexpensive way to get together to watch and discuss a film, and we all take turns picking out the movies.

Last Saturday was movie night, and we had a summer potluck dinner to go with it. Alice brought a package of homemade sourdough, which Clif grilled, and she also brought carrot cake. Diane brought a salad, and except for the eggs, everything came from her garden. As for me, I made a quiche with Farmer Kev’s zucchini and garlic. The basil came from my own little garden.

I got the idea for this quiche after I made Mediterranean eggs—scrambled eggs with zucchini, basil, and garlic topped with cheddar cheese. I wondered, would this taste good as a quiche with a cracker crust, similar to the one I made with summer greens? Why, yes it would. In fact, this has become my favorite quiche, and I plan to make it regularly while I have plenty of fresh basil. As far as I’m concerned, basil, garlic, and olive oil are the holy trinity of the food world, and when you add eggs, cheese, and zucchini, well, you have something that’s pretty darned good, to borrow from Clif.  And it reheats beautifully. What more can you ask for?

Onion lovers might want to add or substitute onion. However, as indicated above, garlic and basil really are a team that’s hard to beat. But as you like it.

For the movie, we watched The Big Chill, a 1983 movie with an incredible cast that includes Kevin Kline, Glenn Close, and Jeff Goldblum. In brief, seven college friends reunite after the suicide of a mutual friend. The college friends are now in their thirties, and their youthful idealism has fizzed away. Not surprisingly, most of the characters are disappointed with the directions their lives have taken—one has become a star in a cheesy detective series; another a journalist for People Magazine; and another longs for a baby. I would have to say this is a movie about regrets, large and small, and after thirty years The Big Chill stills feels fresh and relevant.

Many adults, I suspect, no longer burn with youthful idealism, and many more are perhaps not where they thought they would be twenty (or more) years down the line. Most people deal with the loss as best they can, and some even go on to lead very creative lives, just not in the way they had planned. Others are swamped by regret and the disappointment it brings.

Friends, a good movie, and good food all add up to quite a Saturday night with not a single regret.

Zucchini, Garlic, and Basil Quiche

Ingredients
For the cracker-crumb crust

  • 1 1/2 cups of cracker crumbs
  • 1/3 cup of melted butter

For the quiche

  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Pepper, to taste
  • 1 cup shredded zucchini, squeezed dry between paper towels
  • 2 tablespoons of chopped basil
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/2 cup of heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup of shredded cheddar cheese

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Combine crumbs with melted butter, press into a 9-inch pie pan, and bake for 10 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside.
  3. Heat the tablespoon of oil in a skillet. Add the zucchini, garlic, salt, and pepper. Sauté lightly, for a couple of minutes, until the zucchini is just barely soft.  Remove from heat.
  4. Beat together the eggs and the cream.
  5. In the cracker-crumb shell, spread the zucchini mixture, sprinkle the cheese, and then the basil. Pour the egg mixture on top.
  6. Bake for about 45 minutes or until the quiche is golden brown.
  7. Let set for five minutes before cutting.
  8. Serves 4 or 5 people, depending upon appetite and what else is served with the quiche.