Home Cookin’: Make the Most of Summer

One of the nicest things about the District is the abundance of neighborhood farmer’s markets. Of course you have the king of the heap – Eastern Market – which still rules the farm fresh scene even in its somewhat diminished post-fire digs. But you also have the Penn Quarter FRESHFARM market on Thursdays (even Anthony Bourdain visited during his recent Washington trip), and its Wednesday-Saturday-Sunday sisters in Dupont, Foggy Bottom and H St./NoMa. Right now, as we enter the height of summer, the markets are overflowing with fresh produce: greens, squash, peppers, peaches, nectarines and the first tomatoes of the season.

Of course, there is a downside to this: in our climate, food seems to rot almost instantly. I’ve grown used to buying bananas at their greenest and still having to cut spots off them a couple of days later. So how do you use up the bounty of a morning at the market?

This Sunday, I spent the morning at the Dupont market, in preparation for a planned premiere dinner for “Mad Men” season two (more on the “planned” later). So I had plenty of produce to use, and not a lot of time to use it. So, after a little Google time (and a fortuitous email from Ma t/e), I came up with a quick menu plan, perfect for summer fresh, light (mostly) and most of all easy. After all, who wants to spend a lot of time in a hot kitchen during a DC July?

Watermelon-Tomato Salad

Watermelon/Tomato Fresh Salad:

Source: Family secret (thanks Mom!)

1/4 watermelon (seedless is preferred, but I used seeded and it was fine), cubed
2 tomatoes, chopped
1/2 red onion, finely chopped
1-2 jalapenos, finely chopped
2-3 tablespoons olive oil (more or less to your taste)
juice of 1/2 lime
black pepper to taste

This is the perfect recipe for me: just throw things together, season to taste. You want more oil? Add more. More citrus? Go for it. Right before you serve, mix in a big pinch or two of salt; it really brings the flavors of the salad together, but it also starts pulling water from the melon. This salad doesn’t have much of a shelf life; any leftovers will be sweet gazpacho by the next morning.

Fresh Tomato Arugula Pasta

Pasta with Fresh Tomatoes and Arugula

Source: The New York Times’ Recipes for Health

1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved if small, quartered if large
1 plump garlic clove, minced or put through a press (more to taste)
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
1 cup arugula leaves, coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon slivered or chopped fresh basil
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3/4 pound fusille, farfalle, or orecchiette
1/4 cup freshly grated ricotta salata or Parmesan (more to taste)

One substitution: instead of cherry tomatoes, I used Cherokee Purple and Brandywine Yellow heirloom tomatoes. These cultivars added another level of color to an already bright meal, and these varieties have especially meaty flesh which really absorbed the balsamic and oil of the sauce. Chop the tomatoes, and mix them with the arugula, basil, vinegar, olive oil and garlic. Set aside (I made the sauce about an hour beforehand to give it a long time to marinate). Boil water and cook the pasta until tender. Toss with the sauce, add salt to taste and serve.

Fresh Fruit Cobbler

Nectarine-Berry Cobbler:

Source: Fine Cooking Magazine, July 2007 Issue. There’s no link; deal with it.

Cobbler Dough:

1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 Tbs. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
6 Tbs. cold unsalted butter
3/4 cups sour cream, chilled
Dough flavorings:
1/4 cup cornmeal
1/2 tsp. lemon zest

A secret: this is the first time I have ever baked. EVER. Not even cookies from the recipe on a bag of chocolate chips, or Pillsbury rolls. Baking is not in my constitution: I combine neurotic over-fussiness with a complete lack of precision. So I over-mix dough, I don’t measure ingredients correctly; I’m a mess. Thankfully this is the most forgiving recipe I’ve ever made – even with all my problems it still turned out delicious. Of course, I had to mess with it a little bit: I used lime zest, and used a lot more than the recipe called for, as well as more cornmeal (which required a little more sour cream).

Combine the dry ingredients (minus the dough flavorings) in a food processor. Pulse briefly – 10 seconds – to mix. Add the butter, and pulse until it forms small pea-sized pieces (5-7 one second pulses, though this is where I went wrong and I still got good cobbler). Transfer to a bowl, and mix in the dough flavorings, then the sour cream. Blend it around with a spatula until the dough is moist and forming large clumps. Cover, place in the fridge.

Fruit Filling:

Fill a straight-sided baking dish with fruit – I used 4 fresh nectarines, cut into wedges, as well as about 1/2-3/4 cup each of blackberries and blueberries. Mix with a half cup of sugar (more or less depending on the freshness of the fruit) and two tablespoons of flour.

Final Prep:

Take the dough from the fridge, and form into little mounds; place irregularly on top of the fruit filling. Bake at 350 degrees for 50-60 minutes, or until the filling is bubbling and the dough is browned. Let the cobbler rest for about 20 minutes (this is more of an art than a science – we ate a little early, it smelled too good).

The Final Verdict:

For as little time as this meal took, it was truly amazing; fresh, light, but absolutely bursting with summer flavors. “You should stop complementing yourself and let me do it,” a friend said after my latest post-bite rave.

A note on local food. In this meal, the tomatoes, nectarines, berries, arugula and peppers were all purchased at various DC farmer’s markets. I always advocate using local foods: heck, with this meal, I’m halfway to fulfilling the WaPo Eat Local Challenge (too bad I forgot to sign up!). Using heirloom tomatoes really gave the meal an extra shot of color (not that it wasn’t colorful already). Of course, going to the farmer’s market added a little expense, but even with $4/lb. tomatoes, this still only cost me about $25 (not including staples your pantry should always be stocked with, like pasta, oil, vinegar, etc). Replacing everything with produce from your local Giant would probably cut that in half.

As for Mad Men? Well, it turns out that that the part host didn’t receive AMC. Don’t look at me, I’m just the chef. So there we sat, martinis in hand, watching static. Hey, I’m not here to spoil classic TV for you; go to the Onion A.V. Club for that.

Pictures from tasteofhome.com, NYT, Pinch My Salt

2 responses to “Home Cookin’: Make the Most of Summer

  1. Dorothy Goldie

    You’ll frequently find the watermelon/tomato salad described above as a gazpacho; just blend the whole mess and serve very cold. I’ve always preferred the chunkier gazpacho recipes, so you could blend half of it with the all of the salt and oil and then add reserved melon, tomato, onion and peppers just before serving. Just a thought.

    Using the colorful heirloom tomatoes is a great touch. Did you seed them first (getting rid of what I’ve always referred to as “tomato snot”), or were they so meaty that it wasn’t necessary?

  2. Pingback: Recipe Round-Up: 8/8 « thrifty/epicure

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