It's a grand time to be a vegetable lover. Local supermarkets highlight fresh, crisp greens and slender summer squashes from nearby farms. Signs advertise weekend farmers markets selling heirloom tomatoes, baskets of rainbow carrots, peppers and farm-fresh eggs. And in the dog days of summer, enterprising teens sell sweet corn from makeshift stands.
Overflowing stalls at farmers markets create the illusion folks in the United States have always enjoyed maitake mushrooms, leeks and fingerling potatoes; older cookbooks tell a different story.
A 1997 community cookbook tucked on a shelf in our cabin near Galena, Illinois, offers a glimpse into vegetable cooking of the era. "Cooking With A' Peal" features mostly frozen vegetables flavored with tinned soup and shredded cheese. Only a few recipes call for fresh vegetables, mostly cucumbers and carrots. No doubt there's "a' peal" in the readiness of bags of shucked peas and frozen broccoli florets.
To lure cooks away from frozen vegetables, fresh vegetable recipes need to deliver big taste and texture.
A post-market sandwich can set the tone. The simplest is butter-slathered bread topped with sliced radishes and salt. When the leaf lettuce and tomatoes peak, a slightly more complex ELT sandwich beckons. I stir fresh basil into mayonnaise before slathering it on toasted bread. Then layers of fresh lettuces and vine-ripened tomato are ready for a fried egg.
A sheet pan of colorful curried carrots and potatoes lends itself to a celebratory vegetable-based dinner. The whole tray can be cooked in advance and served warm or at room temperature as a main course accompanied by a cheese platter and good bread. Or, grill a couple of lamb or pork chops for a meat side.
Sweet corn pudding, with its soufflé-like lightness, will stand out at a barbecue. I make it with fresh eggs purchased from the farmers market or the honor stand near our cabin. Cold leftovers taste delightful at lunch with sliced ripe tomato.
Assorted fresh mushrooms, sautéed with the sweetest onions, make a fine accompaniment to almost anything from the grill. I save a few spoonfuls to stir into softly scrambled eggs the next morning. Same with a skillet full of sautéed chard!
Fresh herbs boost the flavor of everything they touch, even those retro frozen veggie-based dishes. Shower your hash brown casseroles and frozen vegetable soups with fresh chives and basil for a real taste of summer farm stand goodness. After all, cooking with the season is one of the 50 foodie things you need to do this summer.
ELT SANDWICHES WITH BASIL MAYONNAISE
Egg, lettuce and tomato sandwiches, yum. Bacon is certainly welcome, as are slices of smoked ham or paper-thin prosciutto.
Prep: 10 minutes
Cook: 5 minutes
Makes 2 servings
3 tablespoons mayonnaise
3 tablespoons thinly sliced fresh basil leaves
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/4 teaspoon coarse salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 large eggs
4 slices hearty whole grain country-style bread
4 leaves red-tipped or green leaf lettuce
1 large or 2 medium-sized heirloom tomato, ends trimmed, thinly sliced
1. Mix 3 tablespoons mayonnaise, 3 tablespoons basil, 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard, 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper in a small bowl. Set aside.
2. Heat a small nonstick skillet over medium heat until hot. Spray with nonstick spray or olive oil. Crack two eggs into the skillet. Reduce heat to low, cover the pan and cook until egg yolks are medium set, 3-4 minutes.
3. While the eggs cook, toast four bread slices.
4. Spread mayonnaise mixture on one side of each piece of toasted bread. Top two bread slices with two lettuce leaves and half of the tomato slices. Top with fried egg and then add the second piece of bread to make a sandwich. Serve with plenty of napkins.
CURRY ROASTED CARROTS AND FINGERLING POTATOES
This is also good with skinny sticks of peeled parsnips instead of carrots.
Prep: 20 minutes
Cook: 35 minutes
Makes 4-6 servings
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons ketchup
1 1/2 teaspoons curry powder
1 teaspoon hot red pepper sauce
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 pound fingerling potatoes, preferably multicolored, halved lengthwise
1 pound slender orange or multicolored carrots, ends trimmed, peeled, halved crosswise
1 large sweet onion, ends trimmed, halved cut into 1/2-inch thick wedges
1 can (14.5 ounces) black beans or chickpeas, drained
3 tablespoons chopped fresh herbs, such as chives and cilantro
1. Heat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Lightly oil a large rimmed baking sheet.
2. Mix 1/4 cup oil, 2 tablespoons ketchup, 1 1/2 teaspoons curry powder, 1 teaspoon hot sauce, 1/2 teaspoon cumin and 1/2 teaspoon salt in the bottom of a large bowl.
3. Add 1 pound halved fingerling potatoes, 1 pound trimmed, peeled, halved carrots, one large cut onion and one can beans. Toss to coat well with the sauce.
4. Scrape mixture out onto prepared baking sheet. Bake, stirring once or twice, until potatoes and carrots are fork-tender, about 35 minutes.
5. Sprinkle with chopped herbs. Serve hot or at room temperature.
SWEET CORN, GREEN CHILE AND CHEDDAR PUDDING
Shred your own cheese for the best results; it will be free of additives.
Prep: 25 minutes
Cook: 1 1/4 hours
Makes 8 servings
3 medium-size ears sweet corn, shucked or 2 cups (8 ounces) frozen corn kernels
8 large eggs
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 white portion of large leek or 1 medium-size white onion, finely chopped
1 small poblano chile or medium-size jalapeno, cored seeded, finely chopped
6 tablespoons flour
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 1/2 cups skim or lowfat milk
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups white cheddar cheese, about 5 ounces
1/4 cup thinly sliced chives or green onions
1 tablespoon sugar
1. Using a sharp knife and working over a shallow bowl, cut corn kernels from three medium-sized cobs. You should have 2 generous cups. Puree the corn nearly smooth with an immersion blender or in the food processor.
2. Carefully separate eight eggs as follows: Crack one egg over a small bowl letting the whites run into the small bowl. Tip the yolk into a second small bowl. Then tip the egg white (which should be free of any yolk) into the large bowl of an electric mixer. Repeat to separate all the eggs in the same manner with the yolks in the small bowl and the whites in the large mixer bowl.
3. Melt 5 tablespoons butter in a large saucepan. Add the chopped white portion of one leek and one finely chopped chile pepper; saute until soft, about 5 minutes.
4. Stir in 6 tablespoons flour and two cloves crushed garlic; cook and stir for 2 minutes.
5. Whisk in 1 1/2 cups milk until smooth. Heat to a boil, then reduce heat and whisk constantly for 3 minutes. Stir in pureed corn and 3/4 teaspoon salt. Remove from heat.
6. Stir in 1 1/2 cups white cheddar cheese, then egg yolks. Stir until the cheese is melted. Stir in 1/4 cup thinly sliced chives.
7. Cover with plastic wrap directly on the surface and set aside for up to 30 minutes.
8. Heat oven to 375 degrees. Generously butter a 3-quart baking dish that is at least 2 inches deep.
9. Beat the egg whites on high until foamy. Beat in 1 tablespoon sugar until soft peaks form, but mixture is not dry.
10. Use a rubber spatula to fold 1/3 of the whites into the corn and cheese mixture to lighten it. Then transfer the mixture to the remaining egg whites in the bowl. Fold gently until most of the streaks of egg white are incorporated. Scrape the mixture into the prepared baking dish.
11. Bake until puffed and top is deep golden brown, about 30 minutes. You can leave the dish in the turned off oven with the door slightly ajar for up to 30 minutes. Serve hot when it's at its puffiest, or at room temperature.
SWEET ONIONS AND MUSHROOMS FROM THE SKILLET
Serve these alongside grilled meat and fish or stirred into softly set scrambled eggs. Or, pile over a baked sweet or russet potato with a dollop of crme fraiche. Chilled and chopped, the combo makes a hearty salad topping.
Prep: 10 minutes
Cook: 12 minutes
Makes about 2 cups
2 large sweet onions (about 18 ounces)
2 tablespoons sunflower or safflower oil
1 1/2 cups thinly sliced assorted mushrooms, such as cremini, oyster, maitake, shitake (about 6 ounces)
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1/2 teaspoon coarse (kosher) salt
1/4 cup chopped mixed fresh herbs, such as chives, cilantro, basil, tarragon, parsley
1. Cut two large sweet onions in half through the stem end. Set cut side up on the cutting board, then thinly slice at an angle to create wedge shaped pieces.
2. Heat a large nonstick or well-seasoned cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat until hot. Add 2 tablespoons sunflower oil and then onion slices. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring often, until onions are golden brown and tender, about 5 minutes.
3. Stir in 1 1/2 cups mushrooms; cook and stir until golden, 3-5 minutes. Stir in two cloves crushed garlic and 1/2 teaspoon salt; cook 1 minute.
4. Refrigerate covered up to 1 week. Serve warm sprinkled with 1/4 cup chopped mixed herbs.
SAUTED CHARD WITH GARLIC
Multicolored rainbow chard is beautiful here.
Prep: 10 minutes
Cook: 5 minutes
Makes 2-3 servings.
2 bunches fresh Swiss chard, 16 ounces total, well rinsed and patted dry
2 tablespoons olive oil or bacon fat
1 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced
2 large cloves garlic, crushed
Coarse (kosher) salt
1. Trim tough ends from chard stalks. Use a paring knife to remove stalks, then slice stalks crosswise into 1/2 inch pieces. Roll up leaves and slice crosswise into 1/2 inch wide ribbons.
2. Heat a large nonstick skillet until hot. Add 2 tablespoons oil or bacon fat, then thinly-sliced onion; sauté until onion is soft, about 3 minutes.
3. Stir in two cloves crushed garlic, the chard stems and a generous sprinkle of salt. Saute 2 minutes. Add chard leaves and cook, turning the greens as they wilt and collapse (but leaving some greens slightly undercooked), about 2 minutes. Remove pan from heat. Serve right away.