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Posts tagged “fresh herbs

Ratatouille fresh from the garden

100_0433The quintessential vegetable casserole is what the French call ratatouille.  It’s sort of the comfort food of summer gardeners.  There are many variations but I kept mine very simple with only zucchini, tomato, onion, cabbage, garlic and 100_0442herbs in a creamy Gouda cheese sauce.  Nothing says summer like vine ripened tomatoes and I’ve recently found myself up to my ears in them 100_0444thanks to my friend Gayle.  She and her husband put in at least six ten foot rows each year.  The yield this year is off the charts.  We’ve had lots of good rain this spring and it seems to have been spring for half the summer here in St. Louis.  Only recently have we had the traditional high humidity and heat.  That’s what those tomatoes love.  So just now those juicy fruits are going strong on hearty vines.  Even the ones in pots on my porch are 100_0447producing well.  Every windowsill has at least six tomatoes glowing red in the sun.

100_0449I chose five medium and very ripe ones along with half of an overgrown zucchini to make this dish.  First, I preheated the oven to 375° then I 100_0451sliced everything uniformly and arranged the vegetables in neat rows of alternating vegetables.  In a skillet I made a roux with olive oil, garlic, a hunk of chopped cabbage, a diced onion and a couple of tablespoons of flour, salt, pepper and freshly chopped thyme and parsley.  I cooked it all down until it bubbled into a golden brown.  A cup or so of milk went in a little at a time and was whisked together until it thickened.  Gouda cheese which is sharp like cheddar and melts very well was shredded along with  a bit of leftover cheddar, added to the skillet and was whisked in as well.  The sauce became nice and creamy and I poured it over the tomato and zucchini.

100_0454For a topping I pulsed a few slices of bread in the food processor with a pinch more of the herbs from the garden , pulsed in a dash of olive oil and sprinkled the top with the crumbs.  Into the oven it went for about 45 minutes until the top was crisp 100_0457and golden and the sauce bubbled up the sides.  Before we could dig into this casserole, it needed to cool down quite a bit before it could be served.  100_0464We survived the wait and boy, was it worth it!

You could use a wider variety of vegetables in this dish.  Often mushrooms Green peppers and eggplant are sliced and arranged in layers too.  Fresh herbs from the garden like basil, thyme oregano, tarragon and parsley can be added…what ever suits your taste.  I went the simple route and worked with what was abundant at the time.  I will have the opportunity to try more of a variety the next time.  My peppers are getting bigger and I just bought some porcine mushrooms.    Stay tuned!100_0467100_0505


Drag Me Through The Garden

100_9065Yep, that’s exactly how this salad happened.  It’s too easy in summer to eat fresh veggies all the time.  Between the things I grow in the backyard, the things people at work bring in, and the things neigbors share, I’m ususlly up to my ears in ears of corn, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, zucchini, onions…you name it!  Oh, I’m not even complaining.  I try very hard to savor the flavors as long as I can.

100_9066This salad is one of those right out of the garden works of art.  There is no cooking or baking, just cutting, dressing and enjoying.  I do make my own dressing which is to say, I add mayo, buttermilk and a packet of Hidden Valley Ranch.  I like it the best because you make it fresh, and you can clearly taste the difference between it and the bottled stuff.

The vegetables I used were cucumbers in half inch cubes, also tomatoes in that way, a fourth of a red bell pepper and also a fourth of a green one, about a fourth of a red onion, a whole spring onion, all of these vegetables in tiny dice.  I chopped some fresh parsley, dressed everything with that yummy ranch dressing…about a third cup.  Freshly cracked pepper got cracked on top of everything after it was all tossed together.

Wow!  Talk about tasting the sunshine!  I love that this salad was basking away in it just the day before.  I can’t wait to drag myself through the garden again…only the next time I’ll feel so healthy, I won’t be dragging.100_9068



What Does One Do With Forty Tomatoes?

Five words will answer that question…Make a pot of sauce!  Actually, I have many more than forty tomatoes, but making sauce is a start to managing such a wealth.  I’ve been learning how to can and preserve recently and I find that tomatoes are the easiest thing to put up in the Mason jars.  No pressure canner is needed, just the water bath method will be enough to kill off any bacteria.

My friend Gayle planted 150 plants and is having an incredible crop this year.  Almost every surface in her kitchen and dining is covered in tomatoes.  She’s got a lot to manage as well.  Part of her management scheme has been giving me the tomatoes that need immediate attention.  Lucky me!

I started by blanching, coring, and peeling the tomatoes just like in the previous post.  To make tomato sauce though, I needed some other flavors. This sauce was made with the following:

  • 40 ripe tomatoes, blanched, cored, and peeled
  • 2 ribs of celery sliced thinly
  • 2 carrots also sliced thinly
  • 2 onions diced
  • 3 cloves of garlic finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tbsp fresh parsley
  • 2 tbsp fresh basil
  • 2 tablespoons dried Italian herb mix
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 2 cans (6oz. cans) of tomato paste
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 3 tablespoons salt (I salt on the low side)
  • a dash or two each of cayenne pepper and black pepper

I put all of the tomatoes in a big stock pot, and in a skillet with a good coating of extra virgin olive oil, I cooked down the aromatic vegetables.  I added the garlic, a bit of salt, then tipped it all into the pot that was getting pretty steamy by this time.  Everything continued to cook as I stirred the pot every so often smashing the tomatoes as I went.  I even ran the electric mixer through it to further crush the tomatoes.  After  about an hour and a half of simmering, I added the fresh herbs and dry herbs (not yet with the bay leaf) then I added the two cans of tomato paste.  It really started to smell good!

After another half hour of simmering, I turned off the flame and used a big 6 cup measuring cup to scoop out the sauce into batches and run each scoop through the blender to further puree the tomatoes.  I dumped the now pureed tomatoes into a large bowl.  When I transferred the last scoop of tomatoes to the blender, I poured everything from the bowl and blender back into the stock pot on the stove, added the bay leaves, salt, and sugar, then cranked up the heat to high.  Since tomatoes vary in size, this is the time to check the taste and make adjustments to the salt, sugar or spices.

To insure being bacteria free, I brought this smooth and lovely sauce to a good boil and checked that it read 210° on an instant read thermometer for at least 5 minutes.  I carefully poured the sauce into sterilized quart jars, wiped the rims, and placed sanitized lids and bands on each one.  I got exactly 4 quarts out of this batch, but I really had to scrape down the stock pot to do it…otherwise I would have had to make a batch of spaghetti to go with it at 9:30pm.  Thank goodness I didn’t have to do that!  I’m still saving myself for after that physical examination to eat pasta again.  Anyway, with the lids on and another pot of boiling water waiting, I further heated the jars in the water another 10 minutes just to be sure of sterilization.  Out of the water bath and on the counter I heard the lids pop one by one as they cooled.  The news was just starting when everything was finally cleaned up again.

This was a lengthy process that took about five hours total but I assure you when something is made with this much love. it’s got to be good!