Late-Summer Risotto

The past few evenings over here have been perfect for sitting out on the porch, the air is not quite chilly and the stars are out. I’ve begun to savor the warm wind, knowing that it’s not going to last much longer. Soon we’ll have that biting crisp air all around us.  Soon we’ll have to huddle under blankets and warm sweaters.  We’ll have to sip hot cider and eat warm, beefy meals.

On warm, late-Summer nights I think about these things that will be coming our way—I think about them with a touch of sadness but also with lots of excitement.  Fall is fun, it brings apples, squash, and Halloween.  It brings Thanksgiving and hot chocolate and pumpkin pie.  If it wasn’t for the loss of plump strawberries, juicy tomatoes, and verdant zucchini, I’d be all for Fall.

So, while I’m not going to mourn over the loss of Summer this Fall, I will savor every last moment of it.  Every meal I eat for the next few weeks will be packed with vegetables.  Zucchini.  Peppers.  Tomatoes.  Corn.  I’m hoping really, that just maybe I’ll eat so much that I’ll be sick of it all and welcome Fall with open arms.  But I wouldn’t bet on it.

August Risotto

serves 4-6

Pureed corn added to vegetable broth enhances the creaminess in this risotto – you won’t even miss the cheese!

  • 1 tablespoon butter or olive oil
  • 2 onions, diced
  • 2 small or medium green peppers, diced
  • 4 ears of corn, kernels cut from the cobs, divided
  • 6 cups water
  • 2 vegetable bouillon cubes
  • 1 1/2 cups arborio rice
  • 1/4 cup vermouth
  • about 2 cups grape tomatoes, halved
  • 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
  • 2 tablespoons chopped basil
  • 1 pinch saffron, optional
  • dash of heavy cream, optional

Melt butter (or oil) in a large pot or dutch oven over medium high heat.  Add onions and peppers and cook until translucent and almost browning, 10-15 minutes.

Meanwhile, bring water and bouillon cubes to simmer in a medium saucepan.  Once hot, take about 1 cup of the broth and put it in a blender.  Add two ears worth of corn kernels into the blender and puree until smooth.  Add this mixture back to the simmering broth.

In the dutch oven, add rice and vermouth, stirring rice so that it gets coated in the liquid.  Let all the vermouth evaporate and then add in a ladle of the corn-broth, letting it soak into the rice.  Add the zucchini. Once the liquid gets soaked up by the rice add more liquid, stirring, and repeat this process until the rice is creamy and tender.  Before adding your last ladleful, add the tomatoes, remaining corn kernels, herbs, saffron, and heavy cream (if using.)  Stir a bit more and then serve.  After dinner, make sure that you go outside and take in the warm late-Summer air.

There’s good pasta, then there’s…

Great pasta. It’s something I don’t come across often; great pasta is hard to come by because, let’s face it, most pasta is delicious. There’s just something about a good noodle, some sauce, and a bunch of cheese that just can’t be bad (excluding, maybe, spaghetti-o’s.) Pasta is practically fool-proof, and so easy, that most of the time when I’m making it, it’s because I want something quick, satisfying, and ahem, sprinkled with parmigiano-reggiano. I hardly put any real effort into my pasta—and I’m always happy with the result.

But every once in a while, a pasta dish gets made with some extra time, thought, and love. The ingredients are paired with care, the cooking of everything is closely watched. Bacon is involved. The happy result of these pastas is greatness. You sit your friends down at the table, and they’re thinking cool, pasta. Can’t be bad. And then they eat… and they are like, totally wowed. Like, oh my gosh this is the best pasta ever and I can’t believe everything works so well and it doesn’t even need anything else and Robin you are the coolest girl in the world will you marry me?

Now that’s pasta greatness. It doesn’t come around often, nor should it, or you’d have the neighborhood banging down your doors. But great pasta should be made every once in a while and you’d be smart to make this one. It takes a bit longer than your everyday pasta dish but not much longer—it’s still an easy-enough recipe to be suitable for these late, lazy, Summer days.

The pine nuts are toasted to enhance their flavor, the sliced zucchini well-salted (and cheesed) before roasting, and, if you are too lazy (like me) to make your own pasta, the good stuff should be used—either fresh from your local market or fancy, dried pasta imported from Italy. Both options will be a dollar or two more than the cheap stuff but since this pasta doesn’t have a tomato sauce, it’s really worth it.

And please, don’t shy away from the bacon grease, it simple must to be added to the dish. Great pastas are rare luxuries and calories are not to be counted.

Great Pasta

serves 4

  • 4 small-medium zucchini, sliced
  • 1/2 cup parmigianno-reggianno, grated
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • salt, pepper
  • 1/2 cup pine nuts
  • 6 slices good bacon, cut crosswise into three pieces
  • 1 pound good dried or fresh spaghetti pasta
  • another 1/3-1/2 cup parmigianno-reggianno
  • small bunch of basil, cut into a chiffonade
  • generous pinch of red pepper flakes

Preheat oven to 400ºF. Place zucchini slices on a big baking sheet (you may need to use two) and sprinkle liberally with salt, pepper, and cheese. Drizzle olive oil over slices. Roast in oven for 20-30 minutes, or until tender and beginning to crisp up.

Meanwhile, start cooking your bacon in a pan over low heat. In a small skillet or saucepan, toast pine nuts over medium heat until fragrant. Fill a pot with salted water and bring to a boil. Cook pasta according to directions.

Drain pasta and place back into the pot. When done, add in the bacon (with the grease!), pine nuts, and zucchini. Throw in the basil and red pepper flakes. Stir around so everything gets coated in that beautiful sheen that is bacon grease. Serve topped with extra cheese.

The star.

It’s mid-August—and I’m worrying about tomatoes. I don’t feel like I’ve gotten enough this Summer. Maybe it was that whole salmonella scare thing—I’ve eaten those little grape ones and have had a good slice on a burger or two but I just haven’t gotten into tomatoes this year. I know, that’s like, blasphemy. I felt thoroughly ashamed by Deb’s post—the woman freakin’ dries them. Others out there are making tomato tarts, salsa, preparing tomatoes sauces; I, on the other hand, made a bolognese last week… with canned tomatoes.

The problem is that I’m just not all that inspired by tomatoes in the Summer. Tomatoes, on most accounts, make me think of winter. Of thick sauces. Of chili. Of roasted tomato soup. Summer tomatoes, for me, are a sideshow—sliced on a sandwich, or thrown in with some buttery avocado for guacamole. I hardly ever come up with a dish that makes a tomato the star.

Not so for this one. Down the street from my new house, there’s a few crates in front of someone’s house, filled with peppers, peaches, melons, green beans, and, of course, tomatoes. The tomatoes at this humble market are not your ordinary variety—they are big uglies. Meaty, juicy, and ugly. I knew that they would need to be stars. So I grabbed two, placed two dollars in the plastic bag that accepts your money (I just love living in a town that is that trustworthy!) and thought of the Boucheron that I had in the fridge.

Boucheron-stuffed tomatoes were born. They are absolutely simple. Cut the top off your tomato and scoop out some flesh (but not too much, remember that the tomato is the star), then fill it with any herbs you have, some, garlic, and Boucheron (or any other semi-soft cheese you love.) Cook until bubbly. Then all you have to do is savor the summer’s star, tomato.

Boucheron-stuffed Tomatoes

serves 2

  • 2 large, heirloom tomatoes
  • 2 tablespoons of any herbs you have—I used basil, tarragon, thyme, and chives, chopped
  • 1 large clove of garlic, finely chopped
  • salt, pepper
  • 1/4-1/3 cup Boucheron, or any other semi-soft goat cheese, cream cheese, or blue

Preheat the oven to 400º. Cut the tops of your tomatoes. With a spoon, scoop out some seeds and flesh, but not much since the dish should remain mostly tomato. Set in an oiled baking dish.

In a small bowl, throw chopped in herbs and garlic and a bit of salt and pepper. Mash everything together with the back of your fork for a few seconds, then fill the bottoms of the tomatoes with this garlic mix. Put a few bits on the rim of your tomato for prettiness.

In another small bowl, mash the cheese to crumble it up. Then fill the tomatoes—you should mound it, don’t press the cheese in too hard or you’ll hurt your precious tomato. Sprinkle with salt and pepper again and bake for 10-20 minutes, or until cheese is melted and tomato skins have begun to split.

Let cool for a few minutes before serving. This dish goes delightfully with some chicken risotto and a good white wine.

A matter of the utmost importance.

In August, it’s important to get peaches into your mouth as often as humanly possible. You could eat, say, 6 or 7 out of hand daily. You could put a whole slew of them in a pie, a cobbler, or a crisp. You could shove them in a fruit salad. Anything will do really, as long as you get enough peaches in you to last throughout the winter. It’s a matter of the utmost importance.

So important, actually, that you may have to get creative. Sure, you could put peaches in a salad (actually I think August requires you to do so) but how about peaches for dinner? And no, not one of those I’m having dessert for dinner dinners – though that too sounds like a swell idea. How about you go balls to the wall, wild and crazy? Go peaches… with shrimp… and spicy peanuts… and bok choy.

It works, trust me, it works. It comes together into, well, the perfect balance. Spicy-hot peanuts are tempered (and highlighted) by the sweet peaches and the flesh of the shrimp. The bok choy lends that special crispness. And you can check off another serving on that peaches quota that I am sure you are all trying to fill. Right now, I’ve had about enough peaches to last until November. There’s a lot of work to do before the summer’s end.

Peaches and shrimp.

Peaches and Shrimp Stir-fry

serves 2-4

  • 1 pound shrimp, peeled and deviened
  • 2 tablespoons peach nectar (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce, or more to taste
  • small splash of rice vinegar
  • 6 heads bok choy, leaves separated
  • 3 peaches, cut into wedges
  • 3/4 cup spicy-hot peanuts
  • 1 bunch green onions, sliced

Place cleaned shrimp in a bowl. If using, add some peach nectar to the shrimp and let it marinate while you put together the other ingredients. When everything’s all chopped and ready, heat some oil in a wok until very hot. Throw in the shrimp, alongwith the soy sauce and vinegar. After a minute, add the bok choy and peaches. Cook, throwing the wok contents into the air and catching it all back in the wok if you have a lot of finesse and flair. Otherwise, stir with a wooden spoon. It’s okay if the peaches start to melt and break apart, they will act as a sauce like that. When shrimp seems cooked, add in the spicy-hot peanuts (you may substitute regular peanuts if you are a wimp) and cook for a minute longer.

Pour the wok contents into a serving bowl. Top with the green onions and more peanuts.

“Busy”

I’m sorry. I don’t have much for you—I just couldn’t stay away any longer. You go for so long without blogging and then you wake up one morning just aching to say hello.

I’ve been cooking—a seven course celebration dinner for Jim’s dad’s birthday—but I haven’t been taking pictures. I hadn’t even unpacked my camera until a few days ago.

I’ve been busy, you know. Not so much with, erm, unpacking, but with other busy-making stuff, like swimming in the Delaware, or lying about the porch, or reading the 562-page novel The Story of Edgar Sawtelle within a week. I’ve been busy walking through the woods with my dog, watching the Olympics, driving around to local markets for their fresh produce, meat, and things. I’ve been busying (slowly) putting together my new apartment. I’ve been busying oogling the table that Jim is making for our new kitchen. And this weekend I’ll be busying staining it (and when it’s all done I’ll be busying photographing it for you!)

I found that popcorn is the best thing for times when you are too busy, or too lazy, to make yourself some real food. It’s actually best tossed in a spicy mix and served with your favorite book, an August afternoon, and a tall glass of iced tea. And if you’ll excuse me, I need to get back to that right now.

Spicy Popcorn

makes one bag of microwave popcorn

  • 1/4 teaspoon of your favorite curry powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon Old Bay spice
  • a dash of pepper, a big pinch of salt, and a sprinkling of sugar to taste
  • 1/8 or more of red hot chile powder, if you dare
  • 1 bag of microwave popcorn
  • melted butter, as much as you like, if you, unlike me, are not on weight watchers

Combine the first five ingredients in a small bowl. Taste and adjust if you want. Pop the popcorn in the microwave. When it’s done and just cool enough for you to touch the bag without severely burning your fingers, open it up, pour in the spice mix, and shake! Serve in your favorite popcorn bowl, or right out of the bag.

The new digs.

The Delaware River, Stockton, New Jersey.

This is my new home. Stockton, New Jersey. On the Delaware River. I’ve walked down the path from my backyard to the river and I’ve jumped in for a swim. The water is warm, peaceful, too good to be true.

The canal.
The canal.

Once I get a handle on being the happiest person in the world, I promise I’ll post. About food. Maybe even grilled food since I now have a grill to use in my backyard. Or I could just cook in my 170 square foot kitchen. Or I could just barf from excitement—promise I won’t put up any pictures of that though!

Delaware River.