Sunday, August 25, 2013

Roasted Tomatoes for the Freezer

There are lots of ways to freeze tomatoes. Every year I experiment a little, seeking the magical nexus between up-front effort and quality of the end product. This one is a bit more up-front work, but I'm very optimistic about the end result.

Like all tomato freezing and canning, this will yield the best results with paste tomatoes rather than the much juicier slicers or the too-fussy-to-handle cherry tomatoes.  (Both of those work well in salsa or dried.)

I have come to the conclusion that it is best to peel the tomatoes, despite the extra work involve (it's not that bad) - frozen tomato skins end up tough and they inevitably peel off the chunks of tomato and float around in whatever you've cooked with them.  Not a huge deal, but better to peel them before freezing.

Before peeling the tomatoes, core them and cut out any bad spots.  This is far easier to do before blanching than after.

To peel tomatoes easily, bring a Dutch oven or other large pot of water to a boil. Have a large bowl of ice water ready nearby. Dunk the tomatoes for about 1 minute each in the boiling water, then lift them out with a slotted spoon and place in the bowl of ice water.  (This is called blanching.)  Remove from ice water, and you'll find that the skins slip right off.

Blanched tomatoes ready to peel
 Peel off the skins, squeeze out the seeds and excess liquid, and place the tomatoes in a roasting pan.  Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper, then roast at 400 degrees for 30 minutes.  Remove from the oven and let them cool.  

Roasted tomatoes ready to drain and package
Scoop cooled tomatoes out with a slotted spoon or dump them into a colander to remove more liquid.  When ready, scoop them into freezer bags. I like to use quart bags, freezing about 3 cups of tomatoes per bag - that seems to be about the right amount for most recipes I use them in.  Squeeze excess air out of the bags, then press the tomatoes out flat - they will store more compactly and thaw more quickly this way.

When you are ready to use these tomatoes, thaw them in a bowl of warm water until you can get them out of the bag.

Drying Basil

The basil is tall and bushy in the garden.  Last weekend I made pesto for the freezer; this weekend I dried basil for winter use. In the past I have experimented with hanging basil stems to dry, but it hasn't worked out well.  You really need a warm dry space like an attic to do that, or better yet, an arid climate.  This year I got out the dehydrator, and the results were both fast and great.  Unlike tomatoes, peaches, etc., you can dry herbs in about 2 hours.

Ready to dry
Choose leaves that are still reasonably tender and are not insect-eaten or yellowed. Spread them out in more or less one layer on the dehydrator trays. It's okay if they overlap because they will shrink considerably as they dry.

Dry for about 2 hours, checking periodically after the first hour and a half. When done, they should be brittle and crisp with no trace of moisture remaining.  Store in an airtight container, crushing them as you fill it.

Post drying - the leaves have shrunk
Ready for storage in the pantry

Monday, August 19, 2013

Raspberry Peach Cobbler

Our raspberry bushes and peach tree have both been producing in abundance this summer, and our freezer is loaded. These two fruits also work nicely together, whether in jam, smoothies, or a dessert like this one. This recipe is for frozen fruit - thawed and then drained, it makes for a nice thick cobbler that is dense with fruit.  If you choose to use fresh fruit, you can reduce the initial quantity somewhat and you will probably end up with a juicier cobbler. If you like, substitute whole wheat pastry flour or white whole wheat flour for up to half the all purpose flour.

A double batch of raspberry peach cobbler in a 9x13-inch pan.
2 quarts frozen peach slices, thawed
2 cups frozen raspberries, thawed
1/4 cup + 2 Tbsp white sugar
1 1/2 Tbsp corn starch
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
6 Tbsp cold butter, in small pieces
1 pint heavy cream
1-2 Tbsp confectioners sugar

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Butter an 8x8-inch baking dish.

Drain excess liquid off the fruit.  Combine the peaches (hold raspberries aside) in a mixing bowl with 1/4 cup white sugar, the corn starch, cinnamon, and nutmeg and toss well to coat.  Set aside while you make the dough for the topping.

Combine 1 1/2 cups flour, baking powder, and salt in a mixing bowl. Add the butter and cut in with a pastry cutter or two knives until it is peas-sized or smaller.  Add 3/4 cup cream and stir with a fork until the dough just comes together.  If it's too dry, add more cream a little drizzle at a time until you can form the dough into a rough ball in your hands.  Transfer it to a lightly floured surface and press it out with your hands until it is a size that will more or less cover the baking dish.

Pour the peach mixture into the baking dish, spread the raspberries over it, and place the dough over everything (it should be contained within the dish, not hang over).  Bake for 40-45 minutes, until the dough is cooked through and golden brown, and the fruit is bubbling.  Let cool on a rack.

While the cobbler bakes, whip the rest of the cream with the confectioners sugar and refrigerate until ready to use.

Serve the cobbler warm or room temperature with a generous helping of whipped cream on top.

Serves 6-8.

Sauteed Summer Veggies and Olives Over Polenta

Instead of the usual basil with eggplant, peppers, tomatoes, and summer squash, I took it in a different kind of Mediterranean direction with olives and feta. The veggies are served in a pile over a bowl of soft polenta and topped with feta and, optionally, pine nuts.  Delicious! If you like, substitute quinoa for up to half of the cornmeal in the polenta.

4 1/2 cups water
1 1/2 cups coarse corn meal/polenta meal
1 1/2 tsp salt

Olive oil
1 large eggplant, peeled and thinly sliced
1 large summer squash, sliced into 1-2" strips (or substitute zucchini)
2 medium sweet peppers (ripe), sliced into strips
1 1/2 - 2 cups peeled, seeded, and diced fresh tomatoes
6-8 cloves garlic, minced
3 Tbsp good quality minced olives or olive tapenade (or to taste)
1/2 tsp dried oregano
Salt and pepper to taste
Crumbled feta for topping
Toasted pine nuts for topping (optional)

To make the polenta, bring the water to a boil in a medium saucepan.  Stir in the cornmeal (and quinoa if using) and salt and whisk to prevent lumps.  Reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until it reaches the desired thickness.

While the polenta cooks, heat a bit of olive oil in a large skillet or Dutch oven.  Add the eggplant and squash and saute over medium heat, stirring frequently, until partially tender.  Add the peppers, garlic, and tomatoes, plus a bit more oil if needed, and continue to saute until the vegetables are pleasantly tender. The eggplant should be quite soft.  Stir in the olive or tapenade along with the oregano and salt and pepper to taste.

Serve the veggies in mounds over bowls of soft polenta. Top with feta and pine nuts (if using) at the table.

Serves about 6.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Mushroom and Apricot Risotto

Earthy mushrooms, tender Arborio rice, and sweet bits of apricot.  This is hearty enough to serve as a main dish. Be sure to use completely ripe apricots or they'll be too tart. I used a combination of shiitake any oyster mushrooms, but use whatever you find that's good and flavorful.

Olive oil
1 large shallot, minced (or 1/2 onion)
2 cups Arborio rice
4 1/2 cup chicken or vegetable stock
12 oz mushrooms, stemmed and diced
4 small apricots, pitted and diced
1 cup grated Parmesan
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat a bit of olive oil in your pressure cooker. Add the shallot and saute for about 2 minutes.  Add the rice and saute for a minute or so, until translucent.  Add the stock and stir well, then cover and bring the cooker to pressure.  Cook for 7 minutes at pressure, then release.

While the rice cooks, heat a bit more olive oil in a skillet, then add the mushrooms.  Saute over medium-high heat for 5-7 minutes, until tender, then add the apricots and cook for about 1 minute more.

Stir the Parmesan into the rice once it's cooked, then stir in the mushroom and apricot mixture.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Serve hot.

Serves 4-6 as a main dish.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Sweet and Tangy Asian Shredded Pork with Mushrooms and Onions

Here's what to do if you have leftover Slow Cooked Pork Shoulder. This would also work pretty well with leftover pork chops or even pork loin if you slice it up thinly; you just won't get the same shredded texture. Serve this over egg noodles or rice.

Canola oil
4-5 cloves garlic, minced
1 large onion, chopped
1/2 lb shiitake mushrooms, stemmed and sliced
3/4 - 1 lb leftover Slow Cooked Pork Shoulder or other pork, shredded or chopped
1 Tbsp hoisin sauce
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 Tbsp cornstarch
About 1 cup water
Salt to taste

Heat a little canola oil in a large skillet or braising pan.  Add the garlic and saute over medium high heat for 1-2 minutes, then add the onion and shiitakes and saute until tender, 5-6 minutes or so.  Stir in the pork and reduce heat to medium-low.

Combine the hoisin sauce, soy sauce, and cornstarch in a small bowl, then pour over the meat the veggies and stir well.  Pour in about 1 cup of water and stir to combine everything well, then simmer until the sauce thickens a bit (this shouldn't take long).

Serve hot over egg noodles or rice.

Serves about 4.

Slow Cooked Pork Shoulder with Soy-Tomato-Ginger Sauce

This was easy and really delicious, plus it made enough for leftovers the next day.  If you don't have the Tomato Ginger Chutney available, substitute a couple tablespoons of ketchup or tomato paste plus 1/3 cup of some other chutney or jam plus a tablespoon or grated ginger root.  You can also substitute ribs for the pork shoulder, but you'll need more like 4-5 lbs.  Serve this over rice or noodles.  You can toss in some veggies at the last minute, or prepare them separately, if desired.

1/2 cup Tomato Ginger Chutney
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 Tbsp brown sugar
2 cloves garlic, minced
1-3 tsp Asian hot sauce (e.g. sriracha), or to taste
3 lb bone-in pork shoulder

Combine the chutney, soy sauce, brown sugar, garlic, and hot sauce in a small bowl or jar and mix well.

Place the pork in the slow cooker and spoon or brush the sauce all over it.  Pour any extra over the meat. Cook on Low for 6-8 hours, until the pork is falling apart when you stick a fork in it.

Serves 6-8.

Pizza with Blue Cheese and Grilled Summer Veggies

I made an extra large batch of Grilled Summer Squash and Onions last weekend and use it in a couple recipes over the course of the week.  Feel free to substitute other veggies (eggplant, tomatoes, red peppers once they come into season). This is a good one if you are a blue cheese lover like myself.

I liked this with the tomato sauce, but you could skip it and put the mozzarella on the bottom if you like, to emphasize the flavors of the veggies more.

1 14-inch pizza crust
olive oil
3/4 cup tomato sauce (optional)
2 cups Grilled Summer Squash and Onions
2-3 oz crumbled or diced blue cheese (Gorgonzola or local blue of your choice)
2-3 oz shredded mozzarella

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.  Lightly paint the pizza crust with olive oil.

Spread the sauce over the crust, then top with the grilled vegetables.  Sprinkle with blue cheese and mozzarella, then bake for 15-18 minutes, until the crust is done and the cheese begins to brown.

Serves 3-4.

Parmesan Roasted Fennel and Zucchini/Summer Squash

Sweet, nutty, and a little salty from the Parmesan.  You might even get kids to eat this.

1 1/2 lbs zucchini or summer squash, sliced in 1/4-inch rounds
1 medium fennel bulb, sliced 1/4-inch thick
2 Tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup grated Parmesan

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.  If desired, place a sheet of parchment paper over a large baking pan.

Place the zucchini or squash and the fennel in a large bowl.  Drizzle with the olive oil, then sprinkle the salt and pepper and the Parmesan.  Toss until the vegetables are all well coated.

Spread the veggies out in more or less a single layer on the baking sheet (use two if you need to). Roast for 30-40 minutes, turning once or twice, until tender and partly browned.  If desired, finish under the broiler for about 2 minutes for additional browning.

Serves about 4.

Peach Ginger Ice Cream

This recipe requires an ice cream maker and is calibrated for the 1 1/2 quart size.

I'll definitely be making this again - the peaches (straight from our tree) and candied ginger are excellent together, all against the backdrop of sweet local cream. Make sure you use a nice, soft, ripe peach.

3 cups cream (or 2 cups cream + 1 cup milk)
1 medium peach, pitted, peeled, and mashed
3/4 cup crystallized ginger, finely chopped
Pinch of salt
1/2 cup sugar

Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl and refrigerate for an hour or so.  When you're ready, process in the ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's directions.  Serve immediately or freeze in an airtight container for later.

Makes about 1 1/2 quarts.