Summer recipes this week. It’s the beginning of the high season for my CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) and my local farmers’ market. This week, simple, quick recipes using garlic, basil, cucumbers and tomatoes with a little help from some friends. These are quick meals you can prepare and serve in a half hour.
I’ll start with garlic, a vegetable with special powers. Larousse Gastronomique, Escoffier’s encyclopedia of French cooking (at over a thousand pages) is a wonderful kitchen companion Escoffier captures something of garlic’s magic when he writes, “ Aristophanes wrote that the athletes used to eat garlic before their exercises at the Stadium. Virgil said that garlic is the right food to maintain the strength of harvest reapers. Pliny, the naturalist, maintains that garlic is a cure for consumption. Celsius cited it as a cure for fever.” In the 16th century doctors carried garlic in their pockets to prevent themselves and their patients “from the bad air and epidemic diseases.” And in the 18th century garlic was used as a preventive against the plague. We all know about garlic and vampires.
There are a huge variety of garlic recipes online. Although my mother was not a heavy garlic user, she made a terrific garlic soup and I went on line to find a recipe that might reproduce it. I excluded all those that called for heavy cream, half-and-half or eggs and egg yolks. My mother soup was not that rich.
Even when you exclude those ingredients, there are other basic differences. Some cooks add onions and leeks to the basic garlic. Some cooks use chicken stock and some use water. Some use garlic that’s been roasted in the oven and some use fresh garlic. And of course the quantities of garlic differ considerably. I ended up with a soup that is very much like Escoffier’s, which he attributes to Provencal cookery. It’s adapted from James Peterson’s terrific book “Splendid Soups.”
The fresher the garlic, the more delicate the flavor, but this soup is great in the middle of winter with well-dried garlic as well. Although the tenderest early spring garlic is gone, there is still plenty of fresh out there.
Ingredients for garlic soup
- 4 heads of garlic
- 1 bunch fresh thyme, about 12 springs, or 4 to 5 fresh sage leaves.
- 1 quart chicken broth. (I’d use water except I have some excellent chicken broth but I want to use up.)
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Four slices of stale or slightly toasted French bread.
- Break the heads of garlic into cloves, but don’t bother to peel them.
- Tie the thyme or the sage leaves into a small bundle and put them in the pot with the garlic.
- Pour in the stock or the water and bring the soup to a slow simmer.
- Cook for at least 30 minutes, until the garlic cloves are very soft.
- Strain the soup through a food mill. Peterson says you can also purée it in the blender and then push it through a medium mesh strainer to get out the garlic skins.
- Serve over a slice of French bread.
Fresh garlic goes with another summer favorite that is just coming into its own, basil. Basil’s deep, heavy sent defines the summer for me. Basil was once such a delicacy, that only the sovereign could cut it, and only with with golden scissors. Basil is, thank God, common today. Add some nuts, a little Parmesan cheese and olive oil and you’ve got a scrumptious summer pesto. It whips up fast and it’s another dish you can freeze in small quantities and pull out in the middle of winter for an instant flashback to a sunny, summer day.
Ingredients for basil pesto
- 1 ½ cups fresh basil leaves. I use mine fresh from the garden.
- 4 cloves of garlic
- ¼ cup pine nuts. (With the price of pine nuts today I almost substituted walnuts or pecans, but to me the mild taste of the piñon nut is exactly right.
- ¾ cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
- ¾ cup (about) of olive oil.
Preparation of basil pesto
- The classic way to make this pesto is in a mortar and pestle, and I’m sure the grinding action, crushing the garlic and basil leaves and mushing in the pine nuts, brings out the maximum flavor. But I find it messy and difficult and I use a small blender. It does a terrific job.
- Peel the garlic toss it into the blender and chop as fine as possible.
- Add the pine nuts and continue to blend.
- Stuff in the basil leaves and pulse to break up the leaves.
- As the leaves begin to break up, start adding the Parmesan cheese.
- Pour the olive oil in to keep the mixture soft enough to blend.
- And that’s it.
Basil pesto is great on a pasta of your choice. You can jazz it up a bit by adding some cooked and chopped vegetables to the pasta. The pesto goes well with potatoes and with cooked chicken cut into bite-size pieces and served over a green salad. But that’s just the beginning. Experiment. Pesto makes a nice crustini, for example, with a bit goat cheese.
There are hundreds of so-called Greek salads. Here’s a simple one based on some of this weeks farmers’ markets produce. Some cooks mix textures, chopping the tomatoes and slicing the onions, but I like to keep them all about the same size, ½ inch dice.
- 3 Tomatoes — cut up
- 1 Red onion — chopped
- 1 Red or green pepper — seeded and chopped
- 1 Cucumber — peeled & chopped
- ½ to 2/3rd cup Black olives — pitted
- ½ lb. Feta cheese cut into chunks
- NOTE: all those quantities are arbitrary. Find your own special balance.
- ¼ cup Olive oil (or less)
- 2 tablespoons Vinegar (or more)
- Fresh Oregano to taste. Fresh basil is also good.
- Salt and pepper to taste
Preparation of Greek Salad
Tomato and Mozzarella Salad
One of the regular dairies at my farmers market, makes a wicked smoked mozzarella cheese. Here’s a final thought for this week. Thinly slice the best tomatoes you can find and the best mozzarella cheese. Assemble slices of tomato and cheese. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with thinly sliced fresh basil leaves. You might want to add a little freshly ground pepper and salt.
A note on my last blog’s Sauerkraut.