Monday, August 19, 2013

Summer lovin': Gazpacho and cantaloupe ice cream

What to do with an abundance of summer vegetables: corn, squash, cucumbers, tomatoes, and melons.

Next Barn Over sent us home with more melons than we know what to do with---cantaloupe and watermelon. We also got pounds of zucchini and summer squash, as well as our usually generous shares of salad and cooking greens, and a few tomatoes: the tomato season is not yet in high gear and is already threatened by blight, sad to say. An evangelist for Long Island sweet corn brings us bags of ears. I tossed some with cucumbers and tomatoes, herbs, a little chopped onion, and piment d'espelette for a light salad.

Having just used up all our cucumbers in a lacto fermentation, I made a large batch of watermelon tomato gazpacho, and learned that summer squash makes a decent substitute for cucumbers. It provides the right mild crunch. But don't use too much---cucumber is still a milder flavor.

I've gone a little wild this summer with herbs and make bold substitutions, cilantro for mint, dill for cilantro, that I never would have before. Handfuls of whatever parsley, mint, and cilantro I had on hand went into this delicious, mildly sweet soup that I found myself craving a bowl of, repeatedly, until it was gone.

I've never gone in for vegetable smoothies, preferring a little chunk and a spoon, a crunchy garnish, and the visual appeal of gazpacho. I want more than the season allows, which is just the right tension to maintain a love affair.

August is the month of our wedding anniversary. One of the dishes I prepared for the reception was Mark Bittman's melon salad: balled cantaloupe seasoned with a bit of lime juice, sugar, salt, cilantro, and a pinch of cayenne. It's refreshing, while the salt and cayenne keep you coming back for more.

Half a melon makes a lovely breakfast. Not only melon, of course, and by half a melon I mean one of the small watermelons that New England produces. I remember my grandfather bringing over such sugar babies in the summer from his backyard garden on Long Island. Here, they are the same: sweet and perfect and just about the size of the cantaloupes, which are a hair large. Their musk permeates a room. Kevin will start one in the morning and wrap the other half's cut side, the seeds already removed, for my enjoyment when I arise.
Another way to enjoy cantaloupe is in ice cream. According to my copy of Ben & Jerry's Homemade Ice Cream & Dessert Book, cantaloupe ice cream "is one of Jerry's favorite flavors, but we never figured out how to make it in large batches." Which is why you could never get this one in the Amherst scoop shop. But if you've got your own ice cream maker, you can make your own with a sweet cream base, the juice of a mashed cantaloupe (strain it very well!), and the juice of a lemon. When the ice cream is nearly done, stir in the mashed fruit.

Since last weekend was a tax weekend in Massachusetts, and Kevin and I have lived without the benefit of a sofa or recliner for many years, we rectified this deficit and celebrated by having friends over for dinner. The excitement of the furniture delivery that morning, or else my big sister's new baking blog on Facebook, "The King and I," must have affected me, as I decided to make a classic fruit tart for dessert, breaking the cardinal rule to never make something new for company. I break this rule all the time, but not usually so many rules at once. I also made a sweet pickle and a pork wrap for dinner, neither with a recipe, and had only made either of them once before.

I started with a recipe for the tart and began by modifying it, used the wrong gluten free mix for pie crust, one loaded with leaveners and browning agents, and utterly destroyed the tart base. While cooking the pastry cream, I got distracted chopping vegetables, wondered more than once why the preheating oven for pie crust smelled so deliciously like vanilla, and was lucky enough to rescue it just before the thick custard could clump and brown. Batting .667 on the tart, I still had the fruit, a mix of peach slices and blueberries. But I'd also made this cantaloupe ice cream---I've made this before, and because I have a huge tote bag full of cantaloupe right now, and remembered how delicious this ice cream is, I had to make it for my friends. I served all three together, it was pronounced a trifle, and it was a hit.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Cooks' Illustrated recipes: kofte and Tunisian grilled vegetables

Flavorful, grilled meatballs and vegetables in wraps make a delicious summer pairing.

Two magazines we subscribe to and read faithfully are The New Yorker and Cooks' Illustrated. CI's claim to fame is engineering the perfect version of a classic recipe, with widely available ingredients and often a pared down prep time, as well. I love Middle Eastern foods, spice blends, and lots of fresh herbs in my cooking. The flavors of the recipe for Tunisian grilled vegetables in this summer's issue of CI came to my mailbox at least a month early to try out on this season's fresh tomatoes, so I tried them in a roasting pan of what I had on hand, and confirmed they work well on earlier summer roasting vegetables, like zucchini and summer squash, and in the oven as well as on the grill.

Early summer roasting vegetables: summer squash, zucchini, beets, turnips, radishes, and carrots
Herbs and spices to be tossed into the roasted vegetables. The mise en place bowls contain a cube of frozen garlic scape pesto, and a dry spice blend. At bottom is a mince of parsley, cilantro, and mint.
For a guest who prefers beef to lamb, we made the beef variation offered in the CI recipe for kofte in the same issue. Split and served over fresh greens and with Tunisian spiced and grilled vegetables, on a wrap or over rice. If you serve this with rice, try seasoning the rice right after it finishes cooking, by fluffing it with a fork and tossing in a big handful of minced parsley and mint, plus a little lemon zest. The herbs give the rice a fresh, light flavor that brightens any meal, without overpowering. 

Tunisian vegetable recipe, adapted to earlier summer produce and the oven
Cooks' Illustrated recipes for Grilled Lamb Kofte recipe (requires subscription) with video, and the beef kofte recipe and their Tunisian-style grilled vegetable salad, or mechouia, (also has a video).