Cucumber Strawberry Basil Salad2 credit Julia A Reed

July Strawberry Salad

Each year I look forward to strawberry season with eager anticipation. Upper Valley strawberries are so juicy and sweet – there is nothing like them! Picking these little red treasures at a U-pick farm means a fun family activity and a provides the perfect opportunity to visit a beautiful farm. Several Upper Valley farms are growing everbearing strawberries which means we get to enjoy fresh strawberries June-September!

Strawberries are so versatile, that they often show up in fruit salad or smoothies for breakfast, pies or cakes for dessert, straight out of the colander for snacking, and as an interesting addition the salads. A great way to combine three things that are in abundance in early July – basil, cucumbers, and strawberries – is this refreshing salad.

Although, this salad isn’t something you want to make ahead of time or keep for leftovers, it is a quick and easy side salad that marries the freshest things of the season.

Strawberry, Cucumber, and Basil Salad

Adapted from Cooking Light

strawberry, cuke, basil

Combine in a serving bowl and mix gently:

 

1 pint hulled strawberries, chilled and quartered

1 tablespoons thinly sliced fresh basil

1 teaspoons balsamic vinegar

1 teaspoon honey

 

Toss in a small bowl:

 

1 cucumber, peeled, seeded, and thinly sliced (about 1 cup)

1/2 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

pinch of salt and pepper

 

Combine strawberry and cucumber mixtures and toss. Serve immediately and enjoy!

Photo credit Julia A Reed

herb starts

Herbs: Bring on the Fresh

Cooking with herbs lends a bright, fresh note to food and whether used sparingly or with gusto, can completely transform a dish.

Easy to grow (many tend to benefit from benign neglect), herbs can live on a sunny windowsill or outside in a garden, making it fairly easy for most cooks to keep on hand. Read on for five different ways to use fresh herbs in your everyday cooking.

Herbs

Salad Dressings and Marinades

Herbs like parsley, thyme and cilantro, can play a starring role when it comes to salad dressing and marinade. Combine vinegar or lemon juice, a heart healthy oil like olive, safflower or canola oil, salt and pepper with your favorite, readily available herbs. Don’t be afraid to really pack in the green! Stem woody herbs like thyme or oregano, and roughly chop the stems and leaves of softer herbs like basil, parsley, cilantro and chives. If you decide to stem all of your herbs, throw the stems into a favorite oil to infuse overnight or bring a pot of vinegar to a simmer, add the herbal discards, cover and let steep for an hour or two. Strain out the solids, bottle and use on anything you like!

parsley

Herb Pastes: Pesto, Pistou & Sofrito
Combining fresh herbs with olive oil and garlic is used throughout many regions in the world. Many of us are familiar with pesto – a sauce made by processing basil with olive oil and garlic, along with pine nuts (or pignolas) and parmesan cheese – but there are variations of this sauce throughout the world. Pistou, originating in the Provencal region of France, processes basil with sea salt, olive oil and garlic – no cheese or nuts. Sofrito uses cilantro, garlic and olive oil, adding peppers and paprika to the mix.

My favorite is a very basic paste of herbs (basil, parsley, cilantro or a combination thereof), garlic, olive oil and a pinch of kosher or sea salt, frozen in 1 1/2 inch logs wrapped in parchment, wax or freezer paper. I then pop the logs in a plastic bag and freeze. Whenever I need a bit of fresh herb flavor for sauces, butters, marinades, etc, I take a sharp knife and slice off what I need – no thawing necessary – and pop everything right back in the freezer for next time.

cilantro

Herb Salad
Nothing says summer than a fresh herb salad. Mix mints with basil, lemon balm with oregeno, cilantro with garlic chives or any other combination you can think of. For a quick salad, mix your favorite herbs with shredded greens like chard or spinach. Sprinkle with sea salt, ground black pepper, minced garlic, a sprinkle of your favorite vinegar or squeeze of something citrus and a heart healthy oil like olive or safflower. If you had a few edible flowers to include like nasturiums, borage, or violets, all the better.

Tea
When you have more herbs than you know what to do with, make tea! Mint, an easy to grow herb, can be used fresh by either pouring boiling water over leaves or allowing them to soak for a couple of hours in cold water. Also try basil or parsley with lemon, chamomile and thyme with a slice of cucumber. You can also gather herbs and dry on paper towels or by hanging in a dry, breezy spot, out of direct sun. Store in an airtight container and enjoy all winter long.

 

Preserving Summer Herbs
Most of us know that herbs can be preserved by drying or by processing into oil (like the herb pastes above) and freezing, but you can also preserve herbs in butter and vinegar.

For butter, add one part minced herbs to two parts softened butter and mix. Shape into a 1 1/2 inch log, wrap in paper and freeze. Slice what you need when you need it, straight out of the freezer!

For vinegars, you will need glass bottles with cork stoppers or plastic lids (vinegar eats away at metal). Fill the bottle(s) with cider vinegar for more robust herbs like rosemary or white wine vinegar for more delicate tasting herbs like lemon balm or thyme. Add fresh or dried herbs, pushing into the bottles with a chopstick or wooden skewer, and close the bottle tightly. Use 1/2 cup of herbs to 2 cups of vinegar, but feel free to experiment with ratios. Store in a cool, dry place.

 

by Elena Gustavson, Everyday Chef

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Blueberry, Basil & Jalapeno Salsa

As strawberry season faded in the last few weeks, I quickly turned my attention to blueberries – my all time favorite berry. And once again, I’m looking for some creative uses for experimenting and sharing with you – at least the successes. With blueberries now in season, and pick your own sites offering some of the lowest prices, there’s every reason to take incorporate berries into your diet on a daily basis.

What was I talking about? Oh, right. It’s useful to learn new ways to use familiar ingredients. That way, you don’t get fatigued on something after just a few days. Though, if you just stock up and freeze your berries for use throughout the year, that’s good too.

favorite pepper

How hot is your favorite pepper?

Even though blueberries are the focus right now, that doesn’t mean I’m disregarding the awesome amount of produce that’s flourishing right now. Often, I find the most interesting uses for fruit to be savory, not sweet. With this simple salsa jalapenos, basil, garlic and red onion pair with the berries for a spicy-sweet flavor.

It takes just a few minutes to get everything ready and toss in the food processor. A blender could work just as well too. Despite what many people think, comparatively speaking, jalapenos are relatively mild. Take a look at this pepper scale from www.liveinthenow.com. Jalapenos fall in between poblanos and cayenne peppers. And there’s a big difference between jalapenos compared and habaneros, which are much, much hotter. But there’s nothing wrong with a little heat. In fact, capsaicin benefits the heart.

If you’re hesitant, I suggest starting out with less. It’s much easier to add heat than to remove it. Start with just a 1/4 of a jalapeno if you’re really cautious. Or, use half and add the second half if it’s too mild for you. Note: remove the seeds of the pepper for less heat. Just slowly slide the edge of your knife across the inside of the pepper.

While you enjoy this simply as a snack with corn tortilla chips, it would pair fantastically with grilled pork chops or pork tacos. As the recipe suggests, try simmering for a few minutes to reduce the amount of liquid if you do decide to use in a taco.

 

Blueberry Basil and Jalapeno Salsa

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Yield: 2 cups

Want more heat? Include the seeds and try using the whole pepper. This would also be excellent with cilantro in place of the basil.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups blueberries
  • 1/2 jalapeño, seeded
  • 1/4 red onion, diced
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 teaspoon fresh ginger, grated
  • 1 large handful of basil
  • 1/2 lime, juiced
  • 1 teaspoon soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • Sea salt, to taste

Instructions

  1. Puree everything in a food processor until smooth. Optional: Simmer the salsa to remove excess liquid. If using in a taco, for instance, this might be a good idea.

Notes

Adapted from www.closetcooking.com

IMG_3844

No Recipe Vegetable Sauce

If you take a look at my fridge or kitchen counter right now you’ll find odds and ends of lingering summer veggies. Green tomatoes on their way to ripening, a couple of Japanese eggplants, all kinds of peppers, mixes of herbs in jars of water and other remnants.

I’m sad to pull be cleaning out the garden – though the bursts of warm temps are surprisingly keeping the peppers and eggplant going, if not at a bit slower of a pace. And I’m still seeing many of these items still at market – but probably not for too much longer now.

Though they might not be in their prime anymore, that certainly doesn’t stop me from finding a use for them. You could should try the ratatouille, or you could do something even easier – just cook everything down in a big saute pot.

Yeah, that’s right. With some tomatoes in there to release their juices (don’t be afraid to use the green ones for a completely different, but still delicious flavor), it doesn’t take long for everything to break down and transform into one awesome vegetable sauce. Just start with some onions and garlic in oil. Add in whatever veggies you have. Season. Toss in some chopped herbs towards the end of cooking. And when it looks sauce-like, use however you want. If it still needs a little flavor, add a splash of vinegar, another pinch of salt, or a few more herbs.

Toss with pasta, fill up tacos, cover a pizza, serve over your favorite grain or just eat it plain. I’ve even freezed sauces like this with some success.

Whatever you do, just don’t let the last of those summer flavors go to waste!

cherry tomatoes

Tomato Basil Chutney

Have you ever noticed that the right condiment or sauce can transform an average dish into a great dish? That’s the case with this tomato chutney. The concept of chutney, similar to relish and savory jam, derives from India where chutneys are made of fruit, spices and vinegar for preservation.

 

chutney
They can be either sweet or hot but are almost always savory. This tomato chutney leans toward the sweet side while the ginger provides just a faint sense of spice. Use this recipe as a guide then try increasing the amount of ginger or adding a little heat with hot sauce, cayenne or chili powder. I like the earthiness of the basil when added in just towards the end of simmering. Basil and tomatoes embody the taste of summer for me.

IMG_0052

What does one do with chutney? You can serve it like they do in India – with curry – or with cheese and crackers, spoon some over a piece of meat, use it in place of ketchup, or mix into cream cheese, mayo, or yogurt to create a spread. I served this chutney with zucchini chard pancakes and it provided some of the expected sweetness you’d often receive from maple syrup. Without it, the pancakes would be pretty average and incomplete. Together, they hit on all the right notes.

 

Tomato Basil Chutney

Prep Time: 5 minutes

Cook Time: 15 minutes

Total Time: 20 minutes

Yield: about 1 cup chutney

sliced cherries

Ingredients

  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 1/4 pounds tomatoes
  • 1/2 onion, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/2 tsp ginger
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 Tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 4-5 large basil leaves, shredded

cherry tomatoes

 

Wash, slice and destem your tomatoes. I used cherry, but any kind will do. Cherry are just slightly less work, I think, as you can just slice them in half. We’re leaving on the skins and seeds here for texture.

In a pot, combine the tomatoes with the onion and garlic. Let this cook down, about 8 minutes. Then add in the flavorings – the salt, ginger, brown sugar and balsamic vinegar. Continue simmering over low heat until everything has broken down and started to form a sauce. If you find you have too much liquid, continue simmering another few minutes. Stir in the basil right at towards the end of cooking, then adjust the seasoning as you like and serve either warm or at room temp.

basil

Parmesan Herb Meatballs

I realized earlier this summer that I needed to do some planning ahead. These meatballs were one tactic. Last month, I baked up a large batch and then popped them in the freezer for a quick protein addition for a variety of meals.

I used half ground beef and half ground sausage, which is not entirely the meatball norm, but what I think really makes these stand out is the large amount of fresh herbs.

Basil, parsley and oregano were my choice at the time. Thyme, sage, rosemary, fennel and even mint, could all be interesting though. You might just need to adjust the amount of herbs depending on what you go with. The amount I suggest in the recipe is based on larger leafy herbs like parsley and basil. Use more or less, to your liking.

I started by sauteing some onion with garlic and red pepper flakes.

meatball-mix

Then mixed that together with the ground meat, chopped herbs, plenty of grated Parmesan, an egg and breadcrumbs. Don’t be fooled by the spoon pictured here, meatballs are meant to be mixed and formed by hand. Just wash your hands well before and after handling the meat to avoid contaminating anything. Coating your hands in a little oil before rolling the meatballs could help prevent the meat from sticking to you.

meatballs

I rolled them out just larger than the size of golf balls and browned them in the oven. Once cooled, I slid the whole tray into the freezer. Freezing them separately at first, then transporting them to a freezer bag ensured they didn’t all stick together and that I could easily take just a few out as needed. After I take them out of the freezer, I make sure to cook finish cooking them through, as I was only looking to brown them at first.

How do I use the meatballs? If I remember, I transfer a few from the freezer to the fridge earlier in the day to defrost. A few times, I’ve braised a few in a little broth, thickened the broth to make a sauce, and served them with vegetables and a grain. Or, I’ve gone the traditional route and simmered them in tomato sauce to toss with pasta. I’m craving a meatball sandwich right now, so maybe that’s my next use. No matter what, I’ve saved myself some time trying to put together a balanced meal.

Parmesan Herb Meatballs

Prep Time: 20 minutes

Cook Time: 10 minutes

Total Time: 30 minutes

Yield: 20 – 25 meatballs

 Ingredients
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • a pinch of red pepper flakes
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 1 lb ground pork
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup loosely packed fresh chopped herbs, such as parsley, basil, mint and oregano
  • 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 cup bread, cubed
  • 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • A splash of milk

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 375F.
  2. Heat the oil in a pan over medium high heat. When hot, add the garlic, red pepper flakes and onion. Saute until translucent, about 8 minutes and season with salt and pepper. Reserve the pan.
  3. In a large bowl combine the meat, egg, herbs, Parmesan, bread, milk, salt and pepper. Use your hands to gently, but thoroughly, combine it all together. It should be very moist. If not, add just a tiny bit more milk. Return your pan to the stove and place a small piece of the meat mixture in the pan to cook through. Taste and adjust the meat seasoning, as needed.
  4. Roll pieces of the meat into balls, just slightly larger than the size of a golf ball. Space them out on a baking sheet. If it’s lined with parchment paper, all the better. You’ll need at least two sheets. Place the sheets in the oven and bake for about 10 minutes. Let the pans cool, then place in the freezer until frozen through. You could place them on a large plate or platter, if that works better for you. When frozen, transfer the meatballs to freezer bags, seal, and use within 3 months for best quality. When ready to use, ensure that the meatballs are heated well and cooked through.
FarmFresh-ConnectLogo

Corn and Bacon Sauté

We kicked off the expansion of Farm Fresh Connect, our local, online farmers market, to the communities of Pittsford and Chittenden last week. We’re pumped to make local food more accessible in these two Vermont towns, both of which have limited shopping opportunities – particularly for locally grown and produced food.
While the pickup of market orders happens at elementary schools in both towns, anyone in either community – whether they work or live nearby – is open to shopping on Farm Fresh Connect.

As part of the promotion of Farm Fresh Connect, at Wednesday pick ups between 3 & 5pm, we’re offering tastings of dishes made with items found on the market. Last week, it was this simple  corn and bacon sauté.

Sweet corn and smoky bacon are just meant to be paired together, which is why I love to start a pot of corn chowder with the fat left behind after cooking bacon. I add in a little zucchini and jalapeno,  if inclined, but almost always include basil. Thyme would work nicely as well.

The result is an excellent side dish for encapsulating the fleeting tastes of summer, though I’ve had a whole bowl as my entire dinner, too.

Hope to see you at one of our market pick-ups!

Corn and Bacon Sauté

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 20 minutes

Yield: 4 servings, as a side

Ingredients

  • 1/4 lb bacon
  • 5 ears corn, husked
  • 1/2 onion
  • 1 small zucchini
  • 2 tablespoons minced basil leaves
  • Kosher salt
  • 1 small jalapeno (optional)

Instructions

  1. Chop the bacon into a small dice. In a pan over medium high heat, cook the bacon until crisp, watching closely to avoid burning. When crisp, use a slotted spoon to remove from the pan and set aside on a paper towel lined plate. Remove the pan from the heat.
  2. Slice the kernels off the corn cobs. A good way to do this is to invert a small bowl inside of a larger bowl and stand the cob on the small bowl. As you slice, the kernels will fall into the large bowl. Then, chop the onion and zucchini into a small dice. If using the jalapeno, remove the seeds and chop as well.
  3. Return the pan with the bacon grease to the heat and add the corn, onion, zucchini and optional jalapeno. Cook 8-10 minutes until the pan is dry and vegetables tender.

Stuffed Pepper Soup

I was happy to see several farmers with baskets of large green bell peppers last week at market.  My garden peppers were unusually small this year for whatever reason and I had yet to have a nice stuffed pepper this summer. I grabbed a bunch of these and some ground beef, all set to go. But when it actually came time to make them, after seven one night during the week, I just didn’t have enough time to devote. I looked for similar, alternate options and came across a recipe for stuffed pepper soup. I was skeptical, but the result mirrored the flavors of a stuffed pepper almost completely and took half the time to prep. I cooked a small pot of quinoa, instead of taking the longer amount of time to cook rice, separately and added that in to my bowl before eating. I guess it proves that almost anything can be turned into a soup.

Stuffed Pepper Soup

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 lb ground sirloin
salt and pepper, to taste
1/2 teaspoon allspice
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 large onion, diced
3 green bell peppers, seeded and diced
1 bay leaf
1 quart stock
28 ounces crushed tomatoes (canned or fresh)
1 cup grains or small cut pasta
a handful of fresh basil leaves, torn
grated Parmesan cheese for topping

If using a quick cooking grain, prepare separately in a small pot according to standard directions. Heat a medium soup pot over medium heat with the olive oil. When hot, add the beef and season with salt, pepper and the allspice. Cook the meat until browned, about 5 minutes, then add the onions, garlic, peppers and bay leaf. Cook for 10 minutes, or until tender. Stir in the stock and tomatoes and bring to a boil. When boiling, add in pasta, if using, and cook until al dente. Turn off the heat and fold in the basil leaves. Remove bay leaf. Serve. If you used a grain, add in desired amount to each bowl. Top with the Parmesan. Serves 4 – 6

Panzanella

Tomatoes

When I was a kid, I don’t think I thought too much about my food. If I liked something, I ate it. If not, well, I would sit at the kitchen table a very long time until I found a good way to make it disappear from my plate. But maybe if I had felt more invested in what I ate I would have been more willing to expand my palate. Perhaps if I was involved in the preparation or cooking I would have cared just a little bit more. That’s what I like about Panzanella. It’s such a simple dish that even kids of a very young age can help put it together and by doing so, feel like they have some control over their dinner. Panzanella is an Italian tomato and bread salad that is nothing short of ideal for a warm summer evening – when it’s too hot to actually cook and so hot that you don’t feel like eating anything too heavy. I always seem to have a slightly stale loaf of bread hanging around, and in the next few weeks, I’m sure more tomatoes than I can possibly eat at once. This is a great way to use up both. If you have kids, be sure to get them involved in the process. I can see much of the work here being done by hand, without the use of a knife. While in the kitchen together, maybe you could have a nice conversation about tomatoes, or basil, or the importance of eating healthy, local, seasonal, or whatever food aspect you might be most passionate about.

I prepped the ingredients for this Panzanella recipe, adapted from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, for a hands on workshop at the Wonderfeet Kids’ Museum in downtown Rutland last night. The goal was for the kids to take each item, put it in a plastic bag, shake up their salad, and eat. Simple flavors. Simple recipe.

PANZANELLA

You can easily make this a little more complex or filling. Try adding in fresh mozzarella cubes, hot peppers, olives, anchovies and/or capers. Or serve on a bed of salad greens or as a side to grilled veggies. 

  • 8 ounces crusty or stale bread
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar or lemon juice
  • 2 ripe tomatoes, cored and roughly chopped
  • 1 small red onion, halved and thinly sliced
  • 1 clove garlic, minced or pressed
  • 1/4 cup or more roughly chopped or torn basil
  • salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Cut the bread into large cubes and spread onto a baking sheet. Bake until crispy and just starting to turn golden brown, about 15 minutes. Remove bread from the oven and cool slightly. You could do this a couple of days in advance and continue with the recipe when ready to serve. Instead of cutting the bread, you could have a helper tear it into pieces.

Mix oil, vinegar or lemon juice, tomatoes, onion, and garlic in a large bowl with salt and pepper. Add in bread and basil. Stir, taste and adjust seasoning if needed. Serve and enjoy.

Pesto For Your Pizza

Though marinara is fabulous on pizza, it’s not the only way to go.  Try a pesto base, and you won’t be disappointed.  Not familiar with pesto?  Pesto is to basil what chocolate is to cacao–a perfect combination to enhance a dynamic ingredient.  Though it may be a little late in the season to whip up a huge batch for your freezer, you can likely still find some good looking basil in smaller quantities at our local farmers’ market. Classic Pesto

This recipe makes a small batch perfect for a pizza.  Feel free to double, quadruple, etc. for larger batches for your freezer.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups basil leaves
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup pine nuts (can be substituted with walnuts, though pine nuts are preferred)
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
  • kosher salt, to taste

Instructions

Combine first 4 ingredients in blender. Blend until paste forms, stopping often to push down basil. Add both cheeses and salt; blend until smooth. Transfer to small bowl. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Top with 1/2 inch olive oil and chill.)

Three Basil Pesto

This recipe makes a batch large enough for a couple of pizzas and some leftovers.

Ingredients

  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1/3 cup pine nuts (1/4 pound)
  • 1/2 cups grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
  • 1/2 cups grated Pecorino Romano
  • 1 cup packed Italian basil leaves
  • 1/2 cup packed bush basil leaves
  • 1/2 cup loosely packed fresh lemon basil leaves
  • 3/4 cups packed flat-leaf parsley leaves
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

Instructions

Pulse garlic in a food processor until finely chopped, then add nuts, cheeses, a large handful of herbs, and 1 teaspoon pepper and process until chopped. Add remaining herbs one handful at a time, pulsing after each addition, until finely chopped. With motor running, add oil and blend until incorporated.

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