Posts tagged ‘vegetable’

Tomato Time

IMG_0242Heinz seems proud to boast of 57 varieties of ketchup, but did you realize that there are actually 10,000 varieties of tomatoes? My favorite is the Sungold, a tiny, orange sphere of heaven. Popping them in my mouth like grapes, they burst with summer and a profound sweetness not found in common cherry red tomatoes. While most recipe books and magazines focus on large, beefy tomatoes, which now grow in a myriad of colors and sizes, the cherry tomato always seems to be the less favored relative. The month of August is the perfect time to pay homage to these little jewels.

No matter the size or the type of tomato, there is one unwavering rule — NEVER put any of them in the refrigerator. Storing a tomato under 55 degrees will zap its flavor. If you have a big batch and they are going to rot, eat them quickly. Make a tomato sauce, salsa or gazpacho. Give them away to your friends or neighbors. Just DO NOT put them in the refrigerator.

To make a cherry tomato even sweeter, try drying them in the oven to imitate the sun-dried version found in the store. Cut in half, (horizontally, not through the stem), put each half side by side on a cookie sheet, and roast in a 200-degree oven for 5-6 hours, or until dried (but not completely shriveled). It takes twenty pounds of fresh tomatoes to make one pound of oven-dried tomatoes, but even having a few on hand to throw into pastas or salads makes it worth the effort.

The best way to eat a cherry tomato is, of course, “straight up”, freshly picked from the vine and warmed by the sun. If one isn’t enough, which it certainly isn’t for me, try one of the other 10,000 varieties!

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August 2, 2009 at 8:18 am 2 comments

Sniff, thump or squeeze your way to ripe fruit

Here’s the low-down on methods and secrets to picking perfect produce.

Artichokes. These majestic orbs have a mysterious quality to the uninitiated. The key to finding one with a soft and flavorful heart is the tightness of the leaves. The overall look of the vegetable should be rounded, not spiked. (A hint about cooking — they are done as soon as a leaf can be easily pulled from the heart.)

Berries. Avoid berries that are stuck together. Like the presence of mold, this is a sure sign that they’re not still fresh. Similarly, stay away from raspberries with black edges and strawberries dotted with blemishes.

Cantaloupe. Use your nose for this one. Take a sniff at either end of the melon, and if there’s a fragrant aroma, it’s ready to be eaten. Check to be sure the stem end has a smooth indentation.

Cherries. My mother taught me at a young age how to sift through the box of cherries to find the juiciest and sweetest among them. I was often left with the assignment of painstakingly picking each one while she finished shopping. Dark and firm ones, she told me, were the juiciest and firmest. These days grocers pre-bag cherries, not giving consumers an opportunity to handpick.

Peaches, nectarines and plums. Like Goldilocks and the Three Bears, look for stone fruits that are not too hard and not too soft. Too hard and they may not ripen, too soft and they tend to be mushy or overdone. If you can find even a hint of softness, they’ll undoubtedly ripen to perfection after a couple of days in a paper sack or on the windowsill.

Peppers—Like a baby’s bottom, peppers should be firm and smooth, with no wrinkles. Whether spicy or not, the most flavorful of peppers have the deepest color.

Tomatoes. It’s tempting to gravitate towards the prettiest tomatoes in the box, but beauty may only be skin deep –the tastiest tomatoes are typically misshapen and imperfect. They should be fully colored when picked—that’s when they have the ambrosia quality that we all crave.

Watermelon. Thump it with the palm of your hand to determine whether it sounds hollow. Also, check to see if there’s a yellow spot where the melon sat on the ground in the garden. If not, it was picked too early and may not be sweet and juicy.

Previously published in the Independent magazine.

June 22, 2009 at 2:51 am Leave a comment

Salad Days

I love salads, making and eating them. With the abundant fresh produce available at farmers’ markets, summer is the perfect time for common and uncommon savory creations. Here are some of my favorites.

1.Beet salad. Start with roasted beets, preferably of different hues for a more spectacular presentation. Add mixed greens, goat or blue cheese, and walnuts. For a contemporary twist, substitute shelled pistachios for the walnuts. A sherry or balsamic vinaigrette will complete the dish. (In a glass jar, combine 2 TB Dijon mustard, 1 TB chopped shallots, ½ cup balsamic or sherry vinegar and 1/2 cup olive oil, and shake vigorously. I prefer more acidity than oil in my dressings, so keep that in mind if you like a more traditional taste.)

2.Mexican Cobb. Combine chopped chicken, avocado, black beans, corn, feta cheese, tomatoes, tortilla chips, and cilantro and toss with a lime dressing. (Whisk together ½ cup lime juice, 2 cloves minced garlic, 2 TB honey mustard, 2 TB honey, 4 TB canola oil, salt and pepper). For variety, substitute grilled shrimp or steak.

3. Grilled Asparagus. Starting with a plate of arugula, sprinkle with goat cheese, olives and cooked couscous. Top with asparagus and drizzle with black olive vinaigrette. (In a blender, mix ½ cup of Kalmata or Nicoise olives, 1 TB Dijon mustard, 1 TB honey, 1 TB chile powder, ½ cup sherry or red wine vinegar, and 3/4 cup olive oil). A Bobby Flay original.

4. Caesar. Toss whole leaves of romaine with a touch of olive oil and grill for about 2 minutes until slightly wilted and a bit charred. Arrange on an oblong platter and drizzle with your favorite Caesar salad dressing. Blanket with freshly baked croutons, lots of shaved Parmesan and cracked pepper. To make a complete meal, include grilled chicken or salmon.

5. Chinese Chicken. Chop nappa cabbage and romaine lettuce in a serving bowl. Add wasabi peas, tortilla strips, grated carrots, pea pods, scallions, cilantro and grilled chicken strips. Make your life a bit simpler by using a bottle of Jade’s Sichuan Peanut sauce, available at Better Cheddar. Add lime juice to taste, and you’ll have an easy facsimile of Houston’s.

6. Caprese. Nothing shouts summer like a tomato and mozzarella salad topped with basil leaves and olive oil. Though not a traditional ingredient, I recommend a splash of balsamic vinegar as well. Find the freshest cheese available, that’s milky and creamy.

June 17, 2009 at 2:34 pm Leave a comment

Tasty Tips

Asparagus season will be over soon–don’t miss out on one of spring’s most versatile and tasty offerings. Select freshly picked stalks, without the chalky film at the bottom. Whether steaming, roasting or grilling, simply snap each one near the end; they will break at the proper point, where the woody and tender parts meet. Grilling is my favorite preparation. Before throwing the spears on a hot grill, dress them with balsamic vinegar, olive oil, sea salt and pepper. Turn every couple of minutes until just cooked through. (Like green beans, if the vibrant green color disappears, the asparagus is overcooked.) Once off the grill, arrange on a special platter and splash with additional vinegar. Finally, top with shavings of Parmesan. Alternatively, roast for 10-15 minutes in a 400-degree oven.


Previously published in the Independent magazine.

June 10, 2009 at 10:17 pm Leave a comment


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