• by Chef Jenn Farmer •
One of the things I look the most forward to in the summer is working in the garden. My son and I were at his grandparent’s house yesterday. They have a huge garden, and we had the best time. As a parent I enjoy it, since it is the only time he is not a fussy eater, devouring cherry tomatoes and dirt covered carrots, annihilating the shell peas while helping pick dinner from the garden. He inevitably gets tired of picking (or weeding), and he gets to work digging. I don’t know why, but most kids love to dig. I guess they believe they will find some sort of treasure, and they are usually correct, be it a wiggly earthworm, or some unique stone, or discarded fragment of broken pottery. If he is still losing interest, out comes the hose, and it is watering time, again a favorite with all kids. He was pretending to be a firefighter, and then just pretending he was “accidentally” hitting the adults with a spray or mist from the hose once in a while. Luckily for him everyone was patient and pretty hot, so they didn’t mind the occasional hosing.
The garden is looking beautiful and abundant. Happily, we can have anything we want out of their garden, as long as we make dinner once in a while, and help with watering and weeding. It is a terrific trade off, and it was also my turn to cook, so I began to wash the vegetables.
The older boys had been out fishing and we had some fresh striped bass waiting for the grill to be turned on, but what else? We were all hot and tired, and very hungry from working and fishing in the hot humid weather. His great grandmother began to shell peas that his grandma had picked earlier; I set to washing all the leafy greens and trying to decide what else we were going to have. Luckily for me, his grandma had already poured me an icy glass of wine, and she stood in her favorite spot in the kitchen to chat and help out if needed. That was all the inspiration I needed and the dinner menu just flowed from me.
First was the easy part: salad with spring lettuce, fresh dill, tender red onion, shredded cabbage, thinly sliced radish, and julienne carrots. I then sliced some cucumbers thinly and made very simple garlic, salt, dill, pepper, red pepper flakes, and red wine vinegar. The cucumber salad was delicious, but what would we have to accompany the vegetables and fish? I dug thorough the heaping basket and found one of my favorite vegetables, cauliflower. Also we had just pulled up a head of perfect garlic, and had just found a remnant of some aged smoked Gouda in the fridge. The following is the recipe I threw together. It was a big hit with everyone and was so very simple. The earthy flavors complimented the striper very well.
Anchovy and Cauliflower Spaghetti
- 2-3 cloves garlic, peeled and halved
- One half pound cauliflower fleurettes
- 1 cup diced tomato
- One pound spaghetti
- 2 anchovies
- Olive oil
- Aged smoked gouda, or other hearty hard grating cheese
- Basil chiffonade
Cook the spaghetti according to manufacturer’s directions. While you are waiting for pasta water to boil, heat up a skillet with some olive oil. Sauté the garlic, and cauliflower fleurettes in olive oil until they are beginning to become golden. Add the anchovies and tomato to the pan with the slightly browned cauliflower and garlic. Mash the garlic, tomato and the anchovies in the pan, (push the cauliflower to one side if possible and try not to mash it up too much). Toss the freshly cooked and drained pasta with the mashed vegetables and cauliflower, and coat the pasta, adding a little olive oil if necessary. Then garnish it with freshly grated aged gouda, and basil chiffonade. Serves about 4-6
Someone knows a mushroom farmer, and so we were also blessed with some oyster mushrooms. We still had all those shelled peas, so of course I made one of my favorite stand-by recipes, wild mushroom and pea salad. It is good year-round, but I just change the recipe to accommodate the season. In the warmer months I keep it light, and usually serve it at room temperature. In the cooler months, I add a little chicken stock reduction for a richer and heartier flavor, and serve it hot with mashed potatoes. No matter the season it is a winner.
Wild Mushroom and Pea Salad
- Olive oil or butter
- 2 shallots, thinly sliced
- 8 ounces wild mushrooms, cleaned and sliced if large
- Half a lemon, zested and juiced
- 2 cups shelled peas (blanched)
- One teaspoon tarragon or chervil, chopped
- Salt and pepper to taste
Sauté the shallots over medium heat for a few minutes, or until they begin to have some golden color. Add the mushrooms and season with salt and pepper. Sauté for 5 minutes, until all is tender. Toss the warm mushrooms with peas, herbs, and lemon juice and zest, then serve warm or at room temperature. Serves 6
Strawberry season is nearly over, so I wanted to make something with some berries that may be the last of the season. I was inspired by my son exclaiming how much he loved his great grandma’s cheese and crackers. I asked what they were, and she said simple butter crackers with a little cream cheese. Of course cheesecake and berries came to mind, here is what I made. It came out far better than anticipated, and it’s a pretty healthy snack or dessert.
- 2 pints strawberries
- 3 ounces Neuchâtel cheese, softened
- 2 ounces goat cheese, chevre
- One half teaspoon vanilla extract
- One half teaspoon almond extract
- One teaspoon maple syrup or honey
- Graham cracker crumbs, garnish
When selecting the berries, keep in mind what you want the end product to look like. The large are easier to work with but if you are willing to put forth the extra effort, the smaller berries make a beautiful table. Clean the strawberries, and cut the tops off the berries. Hollow them out slightly if necessary. In a mixing bowl beat the cheeses together with the extracts and sweetener until creamy. Pipe the cream cheese mixture into the berries, and garnish them with graham cracker crumbs, serve immediately. If you are making them ahead don’t add the graham cracker garnish until you are ready to serve them, and keep them refrigerated. For a variation cherries may be stuffed with the cheese mixture, or a bit of cocoa powder may be beaten into the cheese mixture to make a chocolate cheesecake stuffed berry.
Everyone loved dinner and it only took me about one hour to make, from garden to plate. Not bad for a hot summer day.