Tag Archives: summer

summer tomatoes and a savory zucchini bread {les culinettes}

Summer tomatoes may seem like an odd thing to post about right now, as most other North American food bloggers are fully in fall’s sway. But now that I have this silly wedding business behind me, I’m catching up with a few odds and ends- blog posts I’ve been sitting on; photos I’ve been meaning to edit; recipes I wanted to share. Besides, the particular recipe I have for you today- a savory zucchini-tomato bread- is actually more suited to this time of year, because who wants to turn up the oven on a sweltering August day? (Oh, that’s right, I did.) This bread, though- if you still have a glut of zucchini but are tired of sweet zucchini bread, this is the ticket. It’s rich, eggy, cheesy and perfect for a cool fall day, and it keeps for a few days because of how moist it is. Also, if you’re grabbing bushels of Roma tomatoes to make these roasted Romas, this is a great use for them. Mine were from last year (roasted and frozen in olive oil) but they held up beautifully. If you don’t have tomatoes you can throw in a handful of black olives, or even a little diced ham.

The last meeting of our cooking club took place on August 12 and as we have a seasonal bent, we celebrated the tomato. Once again, I wondered how we would pull off 8 or so dishes with the same ingredient in common and not have it be “too much”, and once again, I needn’t have worried. From just-picked to barely cooked to long-simmered to roasted, the permutations were as creative as they were delicious. Sarah skewered fresh tomatoes with melons, basil and mozzarella for a salad on a stick. Molly puréed tomatoes from her garden with peaches and a little yogurt and garnished it with tarragon for a chilled summer soup, a riff on a Mark Bittman recipe. Amy, ever the fancy-pants (I say this with the utmost admiration!), stuffed squash blossoms with seasoned diced eggplant, fried them and set them on a bed of barely-cooked tomato sauce. Heavenly.

Speaking of heavenly, I want to digress just for a moment here to talk about our hostess Abigail and her stunning Ann Arbor home, which you can see a tiny glimpse of in a couple of these photos. I hope it doesn’t embarrass her if I say that I was absolutely enamored with her house and its decor, a perfect blend of old world/antique and whimsical modern. The house itself is in amazing condition, with original woodwork throughout, a gorgeous fireplace and many other cool details. And the landscaping- let’s just say gardening is Abigail’s labor of love, and it shows. Much of Abigail’s decor, including the “most beautiful chandelier in the world” (as she told her husband to convince him they needed to buy it and ship it back) was purchased during their time living in Italy. I’m guessing the heavy linens on the dining table were of European provenance as well- you just can’t buy stuff like that at a department store.

Of course it’s no surprise that such impeccable taste would carry over to the kitchen. Our hostess made two knockout dishes, one an appetizer with multiple components, the other a homey potato gratin (in a vintage enameled casserole, no less). The appetizer was composed of a whipped chive goat cheese and a deeply savory tomato-shallot-vinegar compote topped with a basil leaf, on little almond biscuits. The sweet cookie-like biscuits were unexpected but totally worked. It was a struggle not to devour too many, as we all wanted to save room for dinner.

It’s been well over a month since this dinner and I’m struggling to remember what Emily and Meghan brought- please forgive me, ladies! I believe the roasted tomatoes with capers and mozzarella were Meghan’s contribution, and Emily brought a simple salad of tomatoes from her garden. She was understandably much too busy to prepare anything more complex (not that she needed to anyway), as she was getting married the following weekend. Congratulations Emily! I don’t think I would have even been able to attend any social events the week before our wedding, as I was so busy taking care of last minute details, but she seemed much more organized than I.

As usual, we had a grand old time eating, drinking and making merry. We were privileged to have been joined by Abigail’s old school friend Chiara, who was visiting from Brooklyn on her first weekend away from her kids. I hope we showed her a proper good time. Kids, if you’re reading, she was fighting back the tears pining for you the whole time. Really!

Some say a bride experiences a let-down after the wedding, when there is no longer a big event to focus on, and the attention dwindles. I don’t feel this way in the slightest, at least not yet- on the contrary, I’m really excited to have time once again to cook and have dinner parties. I will of course post about the wedding very soon, once I get our photos and have some time to digest everything, so to speak. The ultra-short summary is that we had the time of our lives and the food was to die for. But I can’t wait to get back in the kitchen, so here’s hoping we’ll plan another Culinettes party ASAP!

Savory Zucchini Bread with Roasted Tomatoes and Parmesan
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The inspiration for this recipe is the savory “cakes” served in France as part of the apéro (pre-dinner drinks and snacks). The first time I made it, I used roasted tomatoes and black olives, but wanted to adapt it to make use of the overabundance of zucchini in gardens and markets at the end of summer. The results are a delicious departure from sweet, muffin-like zucchini breads.

Prep: 20 minutes
Yield: 2 large loaves or 4 small loaves

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
5 ounces Parmesan or other hard cheese, grated
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
5 large eggs
1 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup olive oil
2 cups shredded zucchini
1 cup roasted Roma tomatoes, cut into bite-sized pieces
1/4 cup grated shallot or onion
2 tablespoons minced fresh rosemary (or other fresh herbs of your choice)

Preheat oven to 400°. Grease 2 loaf pans or four mini loaf pans.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, cheese, salt and pepper. In another medium bowl, lightly beat the eggs with the wine and olive oil. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour the egg/wine mixture in. Slowly mix the dry ingredients into the wet until fully incorporated; do not over-mix. Lumps are fine. Fold in the vegetables and rosemary. Divide the batter evenly among the pans and bake until the top is golden and crusty and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 45-50 minutes for small loaves and an hour for large loaves (please note that I didn’t make large loaves so I can’t vouch for the timing- keep an eye on them and test to be sure).

snippets

For those of you who are married, this wins the Obvious Statement of the Year award, and for those of you who are unmarried, take heed: planning a wedding is a LOT of work. Like, feels-like-a-second-job amounts of work. And for someone like me who basically does have a second job (or two or three, depending on how you count freelance work, being a landlady and running a micro-food-business), I barely have time to breathe let alone blog. For those who opt for a “regular” wedding at a place where it’s X amount per head all-inclusive, there’s still plenty to keep you busy (my sister went this route last year and still, a few months out, found herself wishing she had planned a small destination wedding instead). But when you capriciously decide that you want to have your reception at an old Model T museum, with no kitchen or staff, that doesn’t regularly host large events, you’re dealing with a whole new level of coordination.  My chest gets tight just thinking about it.

Somehow in the midst of all this, I’m managing to squeeze in little snippets of normal life here and there- a Sunday supper of grilled salmon with scape pesto; a weekend visit with my mom and sister; a restaurant meal with my old high school friend Kathy and her husband Garrett (longtime readers may remember my posts about my stay with her in Portland, and making her family’s Chinese dumplings).

When Kathy announced a couple months ago that they’d be in Ann Arbor for a couple days and wanted to meet for dinner, I didn’t have to think too hard about where to go. Grange is a restaurant which friends have raved about for its commitment to only serving local, seasonal food and its excellent cocktail menu. We were particularly wowed by the house-made charcuterie platter (trend trifecta- there were even pickled scapes! but who cares because it was REALLY GOOD), which included whipped lardo among its decadent treats. For dinner, I had pork loin on a bed of greens with pickled strawberries. The dish had minor flaws, but the pork itself was juicy and had a nice fatty layer indicating its non-industrial “other white meat” origins. After dinner we went next door and had a couple un-fancy drinks with Fred, another old friend from college. It was an evening that made me happy and wistful at the same time- I’ve met so many great people at different times in my life but despite the brave new world of online social networking, it’s nearly impossible to keep up with them all in any meaningful way. I’m just thankful for times when I do see old friends and we’re able to pick up without awkwardness,  as if no time had passed.

Speaking of things to be grateful for, my family has been so supportive and helpful during this busy time! My mom and sister were in town visiting a couple weeks ago and I was glad I was able to find time to cook them a meal. I deep-fried some stuffed squash blossoms from the farmers’ market, grilled a grass-fed flank steak, roasted some beets and dressed them with a scape & pistachio pesto, and heated up some pasta with fresh tomato sauce I’d made a few days prior. We had a nice leisurely summer supper, nibbling on cheese and salami and white bean dip, then moving outside for a glass of L. Mawby (a sparkling wine from the Leelanau) and the squash blossoms (I took Melissa Clark’s excellent advice about moving the deep fryer outdoors). As dusk settled in, we  migrated back to the dinner table afterward for the rest of our feast.  The roasted beets were so sweet they tasted like strawberry candy, and despite her aversion to the garish magenta roots, my mom consented to trying a bite. Their green tops were chopped and sautéed with some kale for a slightly bitter counterpoint to the beets’ intense sugar. We lingered over these and a few bottles of wine, and after dinner (partially thanks to said wine), Amanda coerced me into getting out an old photo album and reminiscing about a trip we took to New York almost exactly a decade ago, just two weeks before 9/11.

Even on weeknights, every once in a blue moon we have an evening where we’re both home at dinnertime (no small feat with two freelancers in the house) and we take time to make a “nice dinner”. Now, don’t get me wrong- by “nice” I don’t mean complicated- we’re still far off from having that kind of time. I just mean a meal that we wouldn’t hesitate to serve to company, once we can actually have people over again. For example- a beautiful piece of wild salmon, smeared with the aforementioned scape pesto and grilled. If memory serves (yes, it was that long ago! sigh…), we had kale and grilled cabbage on the side, two of our current favorite vegetable sides. The cabbage was simply shredded, tossed with salt, olive oil and smoked paprika, and the kale was bolstered with a paste of anchovies and preserved lemons, with some red pepper flakes for good measure. Incidentally, my dangerously crowded pantry may look like overkill to some, but it’s a saving grace when it comes to cooking anything worth mentioning on a tight time budget.

Tonight I will be working, testing and developing waffle and popover recipes for a client in my 90+-degree kitchen and wishing I was grilling or eating a nice cool salad or chilled soup. But such is life right now. We’ll be back to our regularly scheduled programming after September 17th, and meanwhile, eat lots of wonderful summer meals for me!

tomatomania part II: tomato summer pudding

And thus continues my homage, my elegy, my song of praise for the humble tomato…

tomato pudding ingredients

It all started when I was very young.  My grandfather on my Dad’s side was a farmer who grew field corn, probably used for things like animal feed, corn oil, and maybe even high-fructose corn syrup, who knows.  But I prefer to remember him for the huge vegetable garden that he grew every year.  We’d go out to the farm for the day and return home with brown paper sacks brimming with tomatoes, corn, and maybe some zucchini or cucumbers.  The tomatoes and corn were the standouts, though; we’d boil up the corn, slather it with butter, dust it with salt and eat it with a big pile of sliced tomatoes.  This is still my favorite summer supper, although now I usually add a simple green salad and some good bread to soak up all those tomato juices.  I also have fond memories of helping my grandpa out on summer Saturdays at the Charlotte farmers’ market when I was 8 or 9 years old.  I don’t know how much he really needed my “help”, but I would bag up the corn for the customers and get paid (I think?) a dollar an hour, money that went to candy purchases or my sticker collection.

It’s been over 20 years since I had one of my grandpa’s tomatoes, so now I have to make do with what I can get from the area farmers.  Plotting out the fate of my remaining Eastern Market haul of tomatoes, I came across an unusual-sounding recipe in the Zuni Café Cookbook (one of my favorite cookbooks) for a layered tomato-and-bread “pudding” that was a riff on the summer berry puddings popular in England.  The concept is that you take white bread and berries (or in this case tomatoes), put them in a bowl with a weight on top, and the bread absorbs all the fruit’s juices and becomes compact and sliceable.  I’ve never had the berry version, but stale bread and tomatoes seems to be a winning combination (think gazpacho, pappa al pomodoro, panzanella…) so I was game to give it a try.

tomato pudding close

The pudding turned out to resemble a “structured” panzanella, tasting very salad-wannabe with its piquant sherry vinaigrette and bits of shallots and herbs.  Judy suggests basil, but wanting something a little different I used thyme and rosemary and was pleased with the results.  If the idea of soggy bread just doesn’t do it for you, I urge you to try it; you just may become a convert.  I thought Judy’s panade (another mushy stale-bread recipe) was odd the first time I tried it, but now make it regularly.  For efficiency’s sake, I think in the future I’d just make the more rustic panzanella if cooking for myself, but the layered presentation is certainly prettier if you have guests to impress.

Summer Tomato Pudding à la Judy Rodgers printer-friendly version

about 2 1/2 lbs very ripe tomatoes (if you can get heirlooms, the color variations make for an even more attractive dish)
8 oz. day-old bread, sliced into 1/4 inch slices
1 cup olive oil
3 tbs sherry vinegar (or sub red wine vinegar)
1 clove garlic
1 medium shallot, minced
1/2 a  small cucumber (about 3 oz), peeled, seeded and diced
about 1/4 cup minced fresh herbs of your choice
salt and pepper

tomato puddiing assemblyPreheat the broiler.  Put the bread in a single layer on a couple cookie sheets and run under the broiler until lightly browned (on one side only).  Cut the garlic clove in half and rub all the toasted surfaces with it.  Brush the nontoasted side lightly with water and place in a bag to steam and soften.

Whisk together the oil and vinegar; set aside. Slice the tomatoes in half lengthwise, place them cut sides down, and slice thinly. Pick out the shoulders and bottom end pieces and chop them.  Place them in a mesh strainer, salt them, and squish them through the strainer over the vinaigrette to release their juice; discard.  Add any juice that collects on the cutting board to the vinaigrette as well.

Build the pudding in a dish or bowl with a capacity of about 1 1/2 quarts.  You’re going to be weighting down the pudding, so choose a dish into which a flat object such as a plate or lid will just fit.  Start with a layer of bread, cutting or tearing it so it completely covers the bottom of the dish without overlapping.  Continue with a layer of tomatoes, overlapping those very closely like shingles.  Sprinkle on some shallots and herbs and a touch of salt and pepper, then drizzle on a few tbs. of the vinaigrette.  Add another layer of bread, pressing down to encourage the tomatoes to release their juice.  Repeat layers, ending with a layer of tomato. You should have a few spoonfuls of vinaigrette left over; save this, along with any leftover herbs, shallots etc. for garnish. Poke the pudding randomly with a skewer or a meat fork.

Cover with parchment paper or plastic, then place a plate or other flat object on top, and weight it down with cans or whatever you have handy (you’ll want a weight of at least a couple pounds).  Set aside at room temperature.

After about an hour, remove the weight and check the pudding by sliding a knife down the side of the dish; the pudding should ooze.  Taste the juice.  If it seems too dry, drizzle some more vinaigrette over the top and down the sides.  Press the pudding again until ready to serve.

To serve, remove the weights, run a knife around the edges, and invert the pudding onto a serving plate, rapping the bottom of the dish if it won’t release.  Present whole, and then cut into wedges (I found a serrated knife works best).  Garnish with any remaning sliced tomatoes, cucumbers and herbs (or, if you like, a few scattered cherry or grape tomatoes).

fire it up!

grillAfter this year’s unusually long, cold winter, I couldn’t be happier that grilling season is upon sarah bastingus once again.  As usual, my pals Steve and Sarah were leading the pack, hosting the first barbecue of the year a month or so ago at their beautiful Woodbridge home.  Being the type of person who has to plan 3 weeks in advance even to invite people over for burritos, they never cease to amaze me with their ability to nonchalantly throw together a spur-of-the-moment party when the weather is nice and invite 20 or so people on a day or two’s notice.

marv joe porch

backyard view

Part of the key to these last-minute get-togethers (besides having a perpetually clean house, which I will probably NEVER achieve) is having a repertoire of simple, popular dishes up your sleeve so that you don’t have to put much thought into a menu, and shopping/ prepping for the party can almost be done on autopilot.  Steve and Sarah’s repertoire usually includes barbecued chicken, grilled asparagus, marinated tofu, and a warm grilled cabbage salad which I wrote about here.  Steve is a vegan, so he usually has some veggie dogs or burgers hanging around as well.  Guests contribute additional side dishes (like the carrot-peanut salad I brought) and/ or beverages.  The whole thing is extremely casual and always a ton of fun.

sarah steve umbrella

At their barbecue a few weeks ago, we actually got rained on, but it didn’t stop these grill-masters from getting the job done.  The ever-unflappable Sarah just grabbed an umbrella and they got right back out there.  We sat on their covered back porch drinking beer and watching the skies turn colors as we patiently waited for dinner to be ready (OK, I say patiently, but I did see several people sticking their fingers in the potato salad to grab a chunk to tide them over!)

stormy skies

This particular barbecue was on the small side compared to their usual parties, but it gave everyone a chance to actually sit down and eat together at the table, which was nice.  Here’s a pic of Steve’s plate, which included everything but the bird:

plate of food

marvin lighterMarvin and I grilled a couple weeks later, just for the two of us.  Again, simplicity is key in order for us to enjoy it.  I have to remind myself not to try to make too many different things, or we both just end up more stressed out by trying to time everything so it’s all ready at once!  This time we did Italian sausages and a simple grilled salmon, with grilled peppers and onions to go with the sausage, and a couple of salads; a plain green salad with vinaigrette, and a tomato salad made with grape tomatoes and a creamy, garlicky dressing.  Accompanied by some freshly made bread and washed down with a cold Strohs, it hit the spot.  I hope we get lots of opportunites to fire up the grill this summer, and am particularly looking forward to pizza on the grill, which is one of my all-time favorite foods.  If I can remind myself that entertaining doesn’t have to be fancy or involve complex preparations, perhaps I can become more spontaneous about hosting my own last-minute get-togethers.

food beer 2

summer in a bowl

la Soupe au Pistou

la Soupe au Pistou

Howdy! This post has relocated here: http://www.simmerdownfood.com/2008/10/22/summer-in-a-bowl/