Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Little. Baby. Tomatoes.

As stated in my previous blog post, my new proximity to the local farmer's market has been both awesome and problematic. I simply cannot pass up beautiful summer produce, and this is especially true when it comes to tomatoes. I have written before about my undying devotion to the summer tomato, and now that the only thing between me and a ripe 'mater is a short walk, I find myself with an excessive abundance of colorful tomatoes.

Now, not just any tomato will stop me in my tracks. Plain ole' beefsteaks or romas don't do a whole lot for me. I am sure it is possible to grow a delicious roma tomato, but I can't shake the many experiences I have had trying to make my grocery store-bought tomato taste like something. Anything. So when it comes to picking them out locally, I stick to one rule: the more colorful (and in some cases, ugly) the better.

But today's recipe makes use of the most beautiful varieties I have found lately - tiny, adorable, perfect little globes in all shades. Growers have been bringing red/green, purple, bright orange, yellow and green striped. They have delightful names like chocolate cherry, orange blossom, and banana gold, and they also happen to be intensely sweet. They pop in your mouth and taste like a burst of summer. How can I pass them by?

I have been bringing these beautiful little treats home by the bagful, and figuring out the best way to enjoy them (other than eating them right from said bag). Because they are so incredibly delicious on their own, I like to do put them in dishes that allow their flavor to shine.

I have also been coming home with a lot of bread from Lorraine's, so my go-to dish these days is Panzanella - Tuscan bread salad. I cannot get enough of this dish. I have made it 4 times in the last week, and yet my mouth waters just thinking about making it again. The juxtaposition of the super sweet tomatoes with the salty olives, rich olive oil, and acid from the vinegar is a pretty amazing combo. Throw some fresh basil on that and you got a slice of summer heaven.

My recipe is not traditional, but I make it how I like it. It is usually made with larger tomatoes, but the baby heirlooms work perfectly here, preventing the soupyness you might get from lots of seeds.  I also like to toast my bread so it doesn't get soggy. The measurements are rough because this is one of those "throw some stuff in a bowl and eat it" dishes. Play with it and see what you like. Feel free to also add garlic, cucumbers, or even feta to yours. Enjoy, then make it again, and enjoy again.

1/2 loaf rustic white or whole wheat bread, cut into bite-sizes pieces
2 pints local baby tomatoes, cut in half
1/2 cup green olives
1/4 red onion, sliced thin
1/2 cup olive oil
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
sea salt
black pepper
large handful fresh basil (about 15-20 leaves), roughly chopped
small handful fresh parsley, roughly chopped

1. Preheat oven to 400. Toss bread pieces with 1 tablespoon olive oil and toast until golden brown, about 10 minutes.

2. In large bowl, carefully combine tomatoes, olives, onion, olive oil and vinegar. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

3. Cool toasted bread and add to tomato mixture. Add basil and parsley, stirring to combine. Taste for seasoning and adjust. Throw in a splash of olive oil or vinegar if needed as bread soaks up dressing. Devour.

Monday, August 13, 2012

I'm a Burg girl now....(and why I have 5lbs of okra in my fridge)

Hello fellow foodies. Thank you visiting my blog after a long summer hiatus. It was a busy one, but I am happy to say that since my last post, I have become an official Lynchburg, VA resident. This move has been a long time coming, and I am excited by the possibilities it brings to my life, my family, and my cooking.

When Geoff (husband) and I were looking for a place to live, we decided we wanted to be close to the downtown area. We were lucky enough to find a house in a beautiful historic district just a couple blocks from downtown restaurants, bars, and most importantly, the Lynchburg Community Market.

This means, on Wednesdays and Saturdays, I am merely 3 block from local produce - which is both awesome and potentially dangerous. For the 2-3 weeks we have been in our home, I have been obsessing over the summer produce, bringing home multiple tote bags overflowing with tomatoes, basil, fresh corn, okra, parsley, dill, summer squash and zucchini. Because it is late in the season, I feel this irrational sense of urgency to scoop up everything I can before it is too late - nevermind my budget or carrying capacity. Sure, I may drop most of my grocery money in one morning, and it may take me half an hour to haul my vegetables three blocks, but summer is almost over, and I am going to soak up every last bite!

This past trip, I came across some tiny young zucchini and squash. I have cooked baby zuchhini before with the blossoms attached, and I remembered them being so sweet and tender that they needed very little else to create a delicious summer side dish. When I cooked the blossoms, I stuffed them with goat cheese and herbs, so I decided to use these baby squashed to make a deconstructed version of that dish.

This Young Zuchhini With Chevre & Basil is so simple, yet it tastes of summer in the way I want all my dinners to taste in August. Fresh. Herby. Light. Sweet. Serve with fish or meat from the grill, corn on the cob, and a tomato salad for a truly summerific spread. Enjoy.

1lb young zucchini/squash
olive oil
sea salt
black pepper
2 oz crumbled goat cheese*
handful fresh basil

1. Preheat oven to broil.
2. Chiffonade the basil by stacking the leaves, rolling them tightly and then slicing thin with a sharp knife to get little ribbons.

3. Remove stems from zucchini, slice in half lengthwise (and again for larger ones). Toss in good amount of olive oil and spread onto large baking dish. Season with salt and pepper.

4. Broil for 7-10 minutes until edges are brown.

5. Transfer to a serving dish, top with crumbled goat cheese and basil and drizzle with additional olive oil. Devour.

*A note about goat cheese. When I say "crumbled" I do not necessarily mean that you should buy it that way. Although store-bought crumbled goat cheese exists, it is usually incredibly over-priced. Next time you shop, compare the prices between the block or roll of goat cheese and the crumbled variety by looking at the ounces. Chances are, you will pay the same amount for 8oz of solid cheese as you will 4oz of crumbled. So buy the regular kind, and crumble it with your hands. It's an expensive ingredient, so don't get tricked my packaging. Or just buy local and you won't have a problem. :)