“I give you this to take with you:
Nothing remains as it was. If you know this, you can
begin again, with pure joy in the uprooting.”
― Judith Minty, Letters to My Daughters
And so, dear readers, we have moved again. From Tennessee where so many life events (some good, and some bad,) have come and gone, the winds of change have filled our sails once again and we have embarked on a new journey. This time lady fortune has lured us further Westward to the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains, just east of The City of Angels. Had you asked me in June, I would never have guessed that we would end up living in Greater Los Angeles. But here we are, with a new home, and new jobs, getting back into the swing of things. Its a new swing but it has a nice groove; and with my penchant for produce, I could certainly do much worse than to end up in LA.
Though we were sad to leave behind our phenomenal CSA program in Tennessee, we are so fortunate to have moved to an area where high-quality farmers markets are abundant. We have tried three of the area’s local markets so far and have been overwhelmingly impressed by the variety of local ingredients and handmade goods. The knowledge and passion of the vendors and artisans gives the market its buzz and verve. Fruit vendors proudly pass out samples of their home grown produce and will gladly spend time with conscious consumers to explain their growing practices. Artisans offer up color on the inspiration for their wares which vary from market to market but include an immense variety of goods from beautiful handmade soaps, to aged balsamic vinegar, to home dried fruits, freshly popped kettle corn, local honey, and a multitude of baked goods. These are the markets I have been longing for – and with the scent of sweet summer fruit in the air and passion emanating from each booth, inspiration abounds.
Now in its 13th year, The South Pasadena Farmers Market has a strong reputation as one of the best in Greater Los Angeles. Situated smack dab in the middle of what is arguably one of the most picture-perfect towns in the local area, the farmers market buzzes with activity every Thursday evening. The sense of community is immensely strong at this evening market. Parents bring their children to participate in sing-a-longs led by a local musician. Food stalls serve up dinner to hungry shoppers who set themselves down at communal picnic tables to enjoy their feast “en plein air.” Produce purveyors banter with their regulars while welcoming newcomers into the fold proffering up wedges of nectarines and samples of fresh pea pods for old and new shoppers alike, whetting their appetite for the weeks peak produce.
It was one such sample of a tangy golden nectarine that seeded the inspiration for this salad. Only a stones throw from Georgia, we were plenty fortunate in Tennessee to be on the receiving end of the region’s well renown peaches. But despite Georgia’s claims of dominance in the production of peaches, I have been overwhelmingly impressed by the variety and quality of stone fruit for sale at the Pasadena Area’s farmers markets. To preserve their delicate flesh from bruising, most peaches, plums, and nectarines are picked, packed, and taken to market just a day or so before they fully ripen. Though I have traditionally found underripe fruits to be unpleasantly tart, or lacking in flavor, some of the semi-firm nectarines offered up for sample struck a cord. Tangy but sweet, firm but not crunchy, the nectarine shows a different color and new versatility when eaten just before it reaches the pinnacle of ripeness. In this salad that sweet yet tart flavor plays well with the zesty chiles, sweet summer corn, and punchy onion; and the fruit brings a citrusy brightness acting as a foil for the earthy rye berries that make up the bulk of this grain-based dish.
The original recipe called for cucumbers but I have adapted it here to include some lovely golden zucchini in its stead. As we typically prepare dishes for Dustin’s packed lunches in advance, I wanted to use a vegetable that would keep well in the salad for a few days and not leach too much water into the dish, hence the swapping in of zucchini for cucumbers. For similar reasons, I would strongly suggest using a golden zucchini over a yellow summer squash. If you cannot find golden zucchini at your local market, feel free to substitute a the traditional green variety that is so insanely abundant during the summer season.
From place to place, vendor to vendor, and varietal to varietal, I find there is so much variance in corn. Some summer corn is so sweet and tender that I will happily eat it “raw,” cut straight from the cob (or perhaps still on it.) If you are lucky enough to happen upon corn that is brilliant in its naked state, simply remove it from the cob and add it to the salad uncooked. At times I find corn to be too starchy to eat without at least some cooking. There are countless ways to cook corn and virtually all will work for this dish. If you happen to be lighting up the grill you can simply wrap the shucked corn in foil and let them steam in the foil for a 10 – 15 minutes, or until the kernels darken ever so slightly in color and become tender allow the corn to cool before severing the kernels from the cob. Another method I like involves removing the kernels from the cob and briefly blanching these in boiling water. Once the water has returned to a boil, leave kernels to bubble away for about two minutes before removing them with a slotted spoon to a prepared ice bath. The ice bath will halt the cooking process and brighten the color of the corn slightly. If using this method, allow the kernels to drain well before adding them to the salad.
Sweet Corn and Sour Nectarine Rye-bouleh (adapted from Kitchen Confidante)
128g (1 C) Cracked Rye
2 Ears of Sweet Corn, Raw, Steamed, or Boiled (See Note on Corn Above)
2 Slightly Firm Nectarines, Pitted and Diced
1/2 C Diced Red Onion
2 Small Golden Zucchini, Diced
1/2 Hatch Chile, Seeds Removed, Finely Sliced
1/2 C Chopped Cilantro
1/4 C Chopped Mint
Juice of 1/2 a Lemon, Strained
1 TBSP Sherry Vinegar
1/2 TSP Agave
1/4 Cup Good Olive Oil
In a medium saucepan (with a lid) bring 3 cups of water to a boil. While the water is coming to a boil, place the cracked rye in a fine mesh strainer. Rinse the rye in several “changes” of water, as you would rice before cooking. Once the water has boiled add a pinch of salt and the grains. Once the pot has returned to a boil, place the lid on the pot and remove it from the heat. Let it stand for at least 5 minutes before removing the lid and tasting one of the grains. The grains should no longer be crunchy but should still have a somewhat firm texture. If they are not soft enough, return the lid to the pot and let stand several more minutes before testing again. Once the grains are to your liking, drain in a fine mesh colander and rinse with cool water to stop the cooking process. Give the colander a few shakes to rid it of some of the excess water and leave the grains to drain while you prepare the remaining ingredients.
Place corn, nectarines, onion, zucchini, and chiles in a large bowl and toss to combine. Add cilantro, mint, lemon juice, sherry, agave, olive oil, a liberal pinch of salt and several cracks of pepper and toss again. Add the well drained rye berries and stir to combine. Taste for seasoning and adjust to your liking with salt, pepper, lemon juice, and olive oil.
In a flash, a bang, and a pop, the wedding has come and gone. Was it everything I could have hoped for? Yes, absolutely but at the same time it was also so much more. I want so much to thank all who attended, and all of those who, in presence or in absence, have supported and encouraged our union. Your smiles, your embraces, and tears of joy have affirmed what I have always known in my heart – that I have found my best friend, my soul mate, my partner in life.
I want to extend a special thank you to the Reverend Doss, who gave such eloquent voice to the feelings that Dustin and I share – to Kathy and Mike for lending their ceremony to us and allowing us to make it our own. Dustin and I hope to follow in your footsteps as we share times of joy and sorrow, holding on to the good memories, and learning from our missteps. A true thank you as well to all of the attendees (particularly to Ken and Alicia and the Padalino family) who were so amazingly understanding and patient with us through the date change – through your support and kindness, and patience with our vision, we were able to enjoy a truly beautiful evening as a unified family. To those who traveled in from far away we appreciate you making the trek to join us, you presence helped make the day a truly memorable occasion. To Kristen, our patient photographer – thank you for making me smile, for your grace and poise and keen eye for detail.
To my new sisters and brother, thank you for the hugs and kisses, and for the amazing warmth and acceptance you have shown me. To my own sister a thousand thank yous for your patience with me, I know I can be a real trial. You showed amazing grace and support in the nerve biting moments before the big event. Thank you for loaning me some of your keen fashion insight, we both know how clueless I can be. To Peggy, thank you ever so much for your support with the flowers, you helped make our big day a beautiful success. To Gram, thank you for your endless support, for your wisdom and your prayers, we know we have angels looking out for us.
To my own parents, its hard to even begin. Thank you for your years of teaching. For thousands of hugs and kisses, and for the occasional tough love it took to keep me, your “head in the clouds” daughter, on track. It is through your guidance that I have learned to be loving, and your perseverance through times of adversity has taught me to stand tall, and above all – to never let the [bad guys] get me down. Thank you both for giving me such a special day, to Mom for her beautifully executed vision (it truly was a Mid Summer Night’s Dream) and to Dilip for his beautiful toasts and for that – often silent but always felt – support. Thank you both for the gift of allowing us to all share this day together as a family.
Just as love, family, and friendship are timeless and fill us with warmth, this dish that follows is a true classic. It takes advantage of the plenty of the summer harvest and transforms it into a light stew, full of sustenance and comfort. Leftovers can be easily transformed into a wealth of different dishes – from tarts, to pot pies, to soups, to bruschetta. To all of those who have supported us, this one is for you. We hope that it warms your hearts as you have ours.
Early Summer Ratatouille
2 Small Eggplant Cut in Half and Cut into 1/2 Inch Slices
4 TBSP Olive Oil, Divided
3 Red or Yellow Bell Peppers
3 Bay Leaves
3 Sprigs Thyme
1 Sprig Rosemary
2 Red Onions, Cut in Half and Sliced Thinly
6 Cloves of Garlic, Peeled and Sliced
3-4 Zucchini or Yellow Squash (a Mix is Great Too!) Cut into 1-Inch Cubes
5 Plum Tomatoes, Scored with an X on the Bottom
At least 3 Cups Boiling Water
1/2 Cup Roughly Chopped Parsley
Small Splash of Good Balsamic Vinegar (optional)
Salt and Pepper to Taste
Heat the broiler to high. Place the eggplant in a single layer on a cooling rack atop a baking sheet (see the first photo above for an illustration.) Brush with 1 TBSP of Olive Oil, sprinkle with a spattering of salt and pepper and place beneath the broiler and grill until just browned (depending on the evenness of your broilers heat distribution you may want to rotate the pan half way though.) Remove the tray, flip the eggplant, brush the other side with another TBSP of olive oil, sprinkle on a bit more salt an pepper and repeat the broiling until just toasted and remove.
Set the cooling rack aside to cool and place the bell peppers on the baking tray. Pop the peppers in the oven under the broiler and cook until charred on all sides. Remove the peppers to a bowl, cover with saran wrap and allow to steam for 5 mins.
While the peppers steam place the remaining 2 TBSP of olive oil in a large sautee pan over the stove. Add the bay leaves, thyme, and rosemary, sautee one minute, stirring often. Once the herbs are very fragrant add the onions and sautee until very soft (about 5-7 mins) and almost translucent.
While the onions sautee place the tomatoes in a bowl and cover with 2-3 inches of boiling water. Allow to cool before removing them with a slotted spoon to a cutting board. Peel off the skins (these should slide off easily now.) Quarter the tomatoes and remove the worst of the seeds. Place seeded and skinned tomatoes on a cutting board and chop roughly. Transfer tomatoes along with their accumulated juices to a bowl and set aside.
When the onions have cooked for 5-7 mins add the sliced garlic to the onions in the pan and sautee another 2-3 mins, stirring often.
Remove the peppers from their bowl, leaving the accumulated juice inside. Peel and core the peppers. Slice thinly and return to the bowl with the juice.
Add the zucchini to the onion herb mixture and sautee stirring regularly for 4 mins. Add the peppers, tomatoes, and their juices and cook another 3 mins, stirring. If the dish appears too dry or starts to stick and brown on the bottom add a 1/4 cup of broth or water to loosen. Add the eggplant and cook until just heated through. Be careful not to overcook the zucchini.
Remove the pan from the heat. Scatter parsley over the dish and stir, taste and season as needed with salt and pepper adding a dash of balsamic if desired. Carefully fish out the bay leaves and what remains of the rosemary sprig and thyme (the parts that have cooked into the dish are fine to remain in place.) Serve warm, cool, or transform into a myriad of other dishes from tarts to bread soup.
Its starting to feel like we’ve found our flow here in Nashville. I have found my go to places (grocery stores, farmers markets, hair salons, tailors etc…) and I can finally navigate about the city without getting too horribly lost. And by the Grace of God, Dustin has finally managed to secure a position with one of the city’s largest and arguably its best Civil engineering firms and we are both so excited and so thankful. To celebrate, I decided to buckle down to take on a project that Dustin has been hinting at for a few months and take another pass at making vegetable lasagna.
We made veggie lasagna for the first, and, until now only, time about 3 years ago, just after we first moved in together. The recipe was a MAJOR undertaking as it called for us to slice and roast all of 7 different vegetables. As each veg cooked at a different rate we were constantly pulling roasting pans out of the oven and checking the done-ness of the various ingredients. The final product was good, but sheesh, what a project!
I spent several days mulling over how I would attack another great lasagna endeavor. I was resolved to keep the baked pasta dish veggie friendly, and thus dismissed the idea of a typical bolognese style lasagna. I thought about what my favorite component of a lasagna is – and realized that, aside from the layers themselves, I was quite crazy about the smooth and creamy mozzarella and ricotta filling and decided that my final dish would need to employ this traditional component. For veggies I selected two of my current favorites – zucchini and kale. In homage to the original lasagna dish that Dustin and I made years back, I decided to roast the zucchini in the oven. The kale I simply sauteed in olive oil on the stove.
Like the first time we made lasagna, making this dish was a bit of a labor of love. It is a great recipe for a rainy day when there is not much else to do. I am really pleased with the way Dustin managed to capture the cooking process with his camera.Hopefully these will give you some useful visual pointers for carrying out the dish and inspire you to take on the great lasagna challenge.
Zucchini and Swiss Chard Lasagna with Lemon Ricotta
For the Zucchini Layer
4 Medium Zucchini Cut into Quarters and Diced into 1/2 Inch Segments
3 TBSP Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line 2 jelly roll or other rimmed baking sheets with tin foil.
Toss the zucchini with olive oil and a liberal grinding of pepper, add salt to taste. Mix well and then divide among the two prepared baking sheets and bake for about 20 mins, turning at least once.
For the Greens Layer
1 10-oz Bag of Washed and Trimmed Kale (I got this at TJs) or 2 Bunches of Kale Stems Removed, Leaves Trimmed and Washed
2 Cloves Garlic Minced
1 TBSP Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper
Heat oil in a large skillet, add kale in 2-3 batches allowing it to wilt before adding another handful or two. Immediately after adding the last batch, add garlic, salt, and pepper and cook, stirring, 2 mins. Remove Kale from heat and place in a bowl until ready to use.
For Lemon Riccotta Mixture
1.5 Lb Fresh Riccotta Cheese
3/4 Lb Grated Mozzarella Cheese
1 Mediun Lemon, Zested and Squeezed
1 TBSP Fresh Thyme or Oregano, Minced
Salt and Pepper
In a large bowl mix together the ingredients above. Add about 2 TSP Ground Pepper and about 1/2 TSP salt and stir to combine. Set aside until ready to use.
For Bechamel Sauce (recipe from Mario Batali)
5 TBSP Butter
4 TBSP Flour
4 C. Milk
2 TSP Salt
1/2 TSP Freshly Ground Nutmeg
In a medium, heat the butter over medium-low heat until melted. Add the flour and stir until smooth. Over medium heat, cook until the mixture turns a light, golden sandy color, about 6 to 7 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat the milk in a separate pan until just about to boil. Add the hotto the mixture 1 cup at a time, whisking continuously until very smooth. Bring to a boil. Cook 10 minutes, stirring constantly, then remove from heat. Season with salt and nutmeg, and set aside until ready to use.
To Finish the Lasagna
1 Package Flat (not Curly) No-Boil Lasagna Noodles (I bought mine from Trader Joes)
1/2 Cup Fresh Pesto
1/4 lb Freshly Grated Mozzarella
By the time you get to the assembly of the lasagna you are in the home stretch. Pick a large roasting pan for this job, you want one with deep sides that will be pretty for table side presentation. I used a large Emile Henry pan that my mother gave to me as a Christmas present, it was the perfect size at 14 x 10 x 3. Use one at least this size (or larger) or you may have some overflow issues.
Start by stirring your bechamel sauce and pour about 1/3 of this onto the bottom of the pan. Top with 1/2 the mozzarella cheese and a layer of noodles. Next, layer on about 1/2 of the pesto, followed by about half of the ricotta mixture. Then, gently add the zucchini on top of the ricotta, top this with another layer of lasagna noodles. Pour another third of the bechamel on top of the lasagna noodles. Repeat the process adding pesto on top of the bechamel, followed by cheese, greens, and another layer of noodles. Top this last layer with remaining bechamel sauce and wrap tightly with tin foil.
Bake in the oven at 350 for about an hour. Uncover the pan and top with remaining mozzarella and bake for an additional 20 mins or until the top is browned. Serve with or without a light topping of tomato sauce and enjoy!