When those first vegetables start to color up and ripen in my garden, I resist picking them too soon, but that doesn’t stop me from planning how to eat them. Usually there’s not enough at first for a full side dish of one thing, but there are certain combinations that I relish from one year to the next that make perfect use of a little of this and a little of that. Here are some of my favorite recipes for inspiration and indulgence.
Love at First Bite
I went to college in Maryland where I first discovered and learned to love fresh farm produce. I still believe those Maryland fruits and vegetables were the most delicious I can remember (except for those that come out of my garden now!). We’d have a cookout and grill a pan of bacon from the open-air market where I worked on weekends. In the bacon grease, we’d cook fresh corn (cut raw from the ear), chopped green bell peppers, and tomatoes—crumbling in the bacon for a crunchy finish. Nowadays I make the same dish using olive or coconut oil or butter instead of bacon grease, homegrown garlic, my favorite Hungarian wax peppers, heirloom tomatoes, fresh herbs (summer savory, thyme, and pápalo), salt, and lots of fresh ground black pepper for zing. It’s a very quick dish once all the chopping is done: sauté the garlic, herbs, and peppers in the heated, oiled pan for about 3 minutes, then add the corn for another 3 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes just until they’re hot and some of their juice releases to make it saucy. Add salt and pepper to taste and serve over smashed new potatoes or sweet potatoes (if you still have some from last fall like I do. If not, you need to buy another case this year!), rice, or as a side with BBQ meat or tempeh.
BTW, did you know that the strands of silk on an ear of corn function like stigmata in flowers? Every single strand must get pollen from the tassel at the top of the plant (a function of wind, if you can believe it), because each pollinated strand of silk allows a single kernel of corn to form on the ear. Amazing, eh? I’ll never complain about how hard it is to get the silk off the ear again.
Inundated with radishes? Make buttered radish sandwiches! Shmear your favorite bread (white bread is traditional, but I love a hearty, seedy slice) lavishly with good butter. Slice radishes thinly and layer them generously in the butter which will keep them from sliding off the open face. Season with good salt. This always seems like such a delicacy. Even though radishes are one of those roots that grow so fast and plentifully, I always want to cut the sandwiches in diagonal quarters just to compliment them, as if they were for English tea. A sprinkle of something snappy and green—pápalo, cilantro, dill, nasturtium—beautifies them further. Alternatively, you can blend radishes and butter in a food processor with salt, but it’s not as pretty as the slices, IMHO. Try it with goat cheese and hotter radishes. Whole radishes are also delicious roasted with olive oil, salt, and pepper.
First tomatoes come, and then there will be a plethora. That’s when I make Watermelon Gazpacho. It’s perfect for taking to a potluck if you can also provide cups (spoons optional). This version is from Food Network’s Tyler Florence, but I always use more tomatoes:
1 lg tomato
½ serrano chili
2 c cubed fresh watermelon (or peaches)
reserve some for garnish 1–2 t red wine vinegar
¼ c extra virgin olive oil
2 T minced red onion
½ cucumber, seeded, minced
2 T minced fresh dill, plus more for garnish
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
¼ c crumbled feta cheese
In a blender, puree the tomatoes, chili, and 1/2 of the watermelon. Pour in the red wine vinegar and olive oil and pulse. Add the onion, cucumber and dill and season with salt and pepper. Puree until smooth. Pour into chilled bowls and sprinkle with dill, feta, and remaining chopped watermelon. Served cold, it is magnificently refreshing on a hot summer’s eve.
When there are more and more tomatoes, here are two more of my favorite things to do with them:
(from The Vegetarian Epicure by Anna Thomas, Vintage Books, 1972)
about 6 firm ripe tomatoes
1 small onion minced
Salt & pepper
Pinch of parsley
4 T olive oil
3 T wine vinegar
Wash and thickly slice the tomatoes. Put them in a bowl with the minced onion, crushed basil, dill and parsley, and salt and pepper. Toss until the slices are evenly coated with the herbs. Now add the oil and vinegar and toss again. Serve well-chilled. This dish is excellent with a hot creamed dish, quiche, or an omelet. In Poland, of course, the tomatoes grow this way.
Roasted San Marzano Tomatoes (or any plum ya’ got)
Fit as many plum tomatoes as possible on a sheet pan with edges split lengthwise, cut-side up.
Sprinkle with olive oil, kosher or coarse salt and fresh ground pepper, and fresh garden thyme.
Roast at 400 degrees till bubbly, but not too mushy (this is why we use plum tomatoes). Broiling is okay if you keep a close eye on them. These tomatoes are SO GOOD hot, cold, or room temp, with or without anything.
My mouth is watering, but as soon as I’m eating these trusty faves, I’ll begin dreaming of okra…
Ellen Rubenstein Chelmis
Ellen Rubenstein Chelmis retired from manufacturing to start her fourth career as wife and mother at 37, she now, at 63, enjoys dabbling in various voluntary efforts to “save the world.” She’s a self-trained creative cook and lover of ethnic cuisines and her consistent passion for food has evolved to embrace the Local Food movement, so much so that she now grows food in her front yard (can’t get more local than that!). If Ellen can do this, anyone can. Ellen is a 13-year transplant to Asheville via Tampa, Washington DC suburbs (most of them) and Charlotte.