Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Farm

I always speak of "the farm" in my cooking classes. Depending upon the context it could be "the farm" I visit most frequently near me in Rhode Island, Pezza Farms. Or, it could be "the farm" that my Aunt Doris had up in Gorham, Maine that we used to visit during the various seasons. There's a special place in my heart for farmers because of my Aunt Doris and Uncle Bud. Both up early, tending to the chickens, the cows, Liza the pig and the horses. Not to mention the fields on their 40 acres. I fondly remember visiting in the Summer and picking the small, wild Maine blueberries. And in the Winter, chopping a tree down for Christmas in the back forty and bringing it home to the family farmhouse that had been in the family for generations, trudging through the snow-covered woods with our cheeks so "Norman Rockwell-ian" rosy and then begging for one more sleigh ride, my sister and I bundled next to Uncle Bud at the reigns before we came in for hot chocolate and bed.
Yesterday, my friend Katie and I visited Pezza Farms and had a wonderful chat with Doreen Pezza. She can tell you anything and everything about growing this and that. What a font of knowledge to glean from, especially for anything that you may want to grow in Rhode Island. Within a blink of her blue eyes, she'll gather what you want, where you want to put it and how you're going to cultivate it and with such enthusiasm that before you know it "you just have to raise one of 'those' too"! Somehow you always find room. But, my main purpose was to see what produce she had to offer. The most beautiful heirloom cherry tomatoes beckoned, along with some fresh cries from gorgeous green beans. And then, in came Doreen's son with a bushel of sweet corn just picked. Well, how could I resist that? Never. The supper question was solved. Something easy, fresh, local and alright, alright...healthy.

Sautéed Cherry Tomatoes and Green Beans
Somewhat Fried Eggs

15-20 Cherry Tomatoes
1 Tbl. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2 Garlic cloves, small; minced
2 Anchovy Filets, packed in oil; whole
Green Beans, a good handful*
2 Eggs, large
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Italian or French Bread, sliced and toasted**

Wash and slice each cherry tomato in half, place in bowl and set aside. Preheat a medium non-stick skillet or 3 quart non-stick sauté pan over medium high heat for about 3 minutes. If you prefer a regular skillet or sauté pan, add another tablespoon of olive oil.

Jewel-like Cherry Tomatoes with Anchovies
Turn down heat to medium and add the olive oil and heat to a shimmer. Add the minced garlic, sautéing until lightly golden. Continue with placing the tomatoes and anchovies into the pan as well and cook until the tomatoes begin to soften and the anchovies begin to disappear, about 5-7 minutes. Scatter the green beans on top of the tomatoes and cover until beans begin to soften yet still retain some “bite”.

When beans have cooked, remove them from the pan and set aside. Remove tomatoes to a bowl, saving any liquid that is in the bottom of the pan. Crack each egg into the bottom of the pan in any remaining liquid and cover until desired degree of doneness is achieved.

Place a slice of the toasted bread onto a plate and spoon the tomatoes on top, followed by the green beans. Place the eggs on top of that and add any remaining pan juices. Season with salt and pepper. Serve at once.

*The amount of green beans is entirely up to you. Asparagus is a wonderful substitute as well.
**For added flavor, rub each slice with a cut garlic clove after toasting.

Apologies for the blurry photo. I was so hungry!

I had a nice chilled glass of a Semillon with this, but other balanced white wines would be fantastic with this dish as well; Pinot Grigio/Pinot Gris, Sauvingon Blanc and the like. Just don't choose anything too "oaky".

Friday, July 22, 2011

It's Too Darned Hot!

This is the time of year that I tell myself, "Fall is the next season" to lend some sanity to a Summer in New England. The heat is stifling. Maybe if I had been raised in it I might have some form of acclimation. But truly, I've been a good boy and no one deserves this kind of weather. Why, when we are young do we not feel the fever of a burning July day (and night) so easily? Is it the amount of fat we've accumulated? The variety of medications our lovely doctors have prescribed to keep us going? Or, is it simply the age thing?
Whatever the reason, thoughts of braising, stews and hot soups fly right out the open window when I feel this way. Salads, fruit, cold soups, even simple bread and cheese with a cold, crisp hard cider or a cool glass of my favorite French Rosé wine from Provence all take precedence in my menu planning. The Early Girl tomatoes are showing up at the local farmer's markets, along with assorted heirlooms and they all beg "Pick me Joe! Pick me!"
This is the time of year that the tomato reigns absolutely supreme. The kings and queens of produce. No other time of year do they taste this good. No hot house or supposed "vine-ripened" imposters are even considered for the multitude of ideas that call. Tomato sandwiches on my good Irish Brown Bread spread simply with homemade mayonnaise. Nothing can beat the taste, bringing  back memories of picking them in the garden as a little boy with a salt shaker tucked into the back pocket of my blue, railroad striped overalls.
Jewels waiting for their setting
Today, some beauties gave me that "come hither" look and demanded to be made into a cold soup. Something that I make when even a Gazpacho seems too much to think about preparing. My simple Chilled Tomato Soup with some grilled corn, feta and (feeling very French lately...more like wishing I were there lately) dotted with a basil pistou. I hope you like it and dream about the south of France with me and the sound of the cicadas ringing though the breeze while the dogs nap silently in the shade of an old pine tree. Thoughts and tastes like these get me through these sultry days. An Fall IS the next season.
Photos will follow. I promise.

Chilled Tomato Soup
Grilled Corn, Feta and Basil Pistou

1 Garlic clove, medium
¼ Cup Basil leaves
Sea Salt
¼ Cup, plus 2 Tbl. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2 ears Corn
2 lb. Heirloom Tomatoes, perfectly ripe
3 Tbl. Lemon juice, fresh
Freshly ground black pepper
½ lb. Feta cheese, crumbled

Make the Pistou-
Place the garlic, basil, and a pinch of sea salt in a food processor and puree until smooth. Add 2 Tbs. of the olive oil and mix well. Let rest at room temperature for 1 hour.

Grill the Corn-
Heat a gas grill to high or prepare a hot charcoal fire. Cut off the tip of the corn’s husks (to make it easier to remove the husks once grilled). Grill the corn in the husk for 15 to 20 minutes, giving it a quarter turn every 5 minutes, keeping the grill covered (the kernels should be cooked but not charred). When it’s cool enough to handle, remove all of the husk and silk. With a sharp knife, cut the kernels off the cob. Set the kernels aside.

Make the Soup-
Core the tomatoes and cut them into chunks. Working in two batches, put half the tomatoes in a blender with 1 tablespoon of the lemon juice and ¼ cup of the olive oil in each batch. Season with a generous pinch of sea salt and black pepper, and blend on high speed until smooth. Strain through a fine sieve, pressing on any solids to get all of the liquid through the mesh. Taste and adjust the seasonings if necessary. Chill until ready to serve.

Mix the corn and feta together in a bowl. Divide the soup among four chilled soup bowls. Spoon the feta/corn mixture onto each serving. Stir the pistou and then drizzle it over the soup. Serve at once.
A Fresh & Light Supper or Lunch

Sometimes I can't resist putting thick slice of toasted leftover Italian bread rubbed with a cut clove of raw garlic in the bottom of the bowl and covering it with the soup for more substance.