Sharing stuff that I like, cooked, ate, did… you get the idea.
I look forward to every spring and the planting of my summer garden. Gardening runs through my veins – one of my earliest memories is playing in the dirt of one of the many square foot gardens my dad has built over the years. My uncle has a garden that’s almost an acre, which is an incredible space to have. A few years ago I traced a watermelon vine almost 30 feet – I doubt I’ll ever have the space to let a watermelon patch develop like that, but you never know when I might decide to till my yard under. Virtually all the family stories I hear involve someone running through a garden, working in a garden, or eating from a garden. I can’t remember a summer that’s gone by without having grown something, even if it might have been a few pots of herbs. Gardening has been one of the greatest ways to build my observation skills, to know when to water, when to cut, when to pick, and to know when there are circumstances beyond your control.
I had to leave my garden for a span of several days last week, knowing that there was a zucchini that was a few days away from needing to be picked. Despite urging my neighbor to pick it, I returned to find the zucchini grown well past a palatable proportion.
That, my friends, is a three pound zucchini in the middle. Although I was tempted to utilize it as a club to intimidate the wildlife that like to share in the bounty, I accept that one of the perils of gardening is that what is grown must be used – a “next zucchini” cannot be guaranteed, and I’d be disappointed in myself if I didn’t make use of it. I sought some advice on what to do with such a monster squash, ranging from zucchini bread, to stuffing it, to latkes. I have some ideas, and I’ll be sharing the stuff that I make with this accidental giant with you.
Summertime is filled with celebrations, get togethers, long days of sunshine (and, if you live where I do, oppressive humidity, but that’s another story) and a bounty of fresh, local food. There is nothing that makes me happier than going out to my garden to pick a tomato or some basil, or going to a farmer’s market to buy a bag of peaches or sweet summer corn. I admit that the early items from my garden don’t typically make it to a plate – I eat the blackberries straight from the bushes, the cherry tomatoes off the vine, and I’ll stop momentarily to admire the velvet fuzz of a home grown green bean before I happily chomp away at the crisp, sweet perfection. When summer production finally outpaces my ability to snack, one of the dishes I turn to is a simple summer salad that’s flexible and a great way to stretch veggies that I may have a limited supply of. It’s also easily scalable for a crowd.
Corn and Tomato Toss
5-6 ears of corn, husked
a couple handfuls of cherry tomatoes, or garden tomatoes that have been seeded and diced (this salad looks especially pretty with heirloom cherry tomatoes such as sungold, black cherry, or yellow or red pear tomatoes)
juice of one lemon
salad onion (or red onion or shallot, or green onion), diced
fresh herbs (along the lines of basil, lemon basil, chives, or cilantro)
Summer squash (lightly sautéed), diced cucumbers, feta cheese, goat cheese, bell peppers
1. Lightly steam the corn, let cool, and cut off the cob (I save the cobs for corncob stock – it’s delicate and sweet and a great base for soups).
2. Halve the cherry tomatoes and let the excess juices drain away.
3. Toss together the corn, tomatoes, and onion, as well as any add-ins you may wish to use. This salad works best with corn as the main ingredient, followed by the tomatoes, then onion, and a lighter touch if cheese is used.
4. In a small bowl, combine approximately 3 tablespoons of olive oil, a pinch or two of salt, and the juice of one lemon and whisk vigorously to combine (or, be like me, and shake it all up in a jar.) Now, taste a little of this, keeping in mind that it will be diluted across all the ingredients. Adjust the ingredients to taste.
5. Toss the corn mixture with the dressing. The dressing should be very light and not pool at the bottom of the bowl. Ideally, if you were to serve this at a gathering, it wouldn’t accidentally sauce the pasta salad you put on your plate next to it. Chill the salad at least an hour and up to 8.
6. Just before serving, chop the herbs and toss with the veggies. I’m quite fond of the combination of basil and corn, so that’s what I use the most often. When I use basil, I toss a chiffonade of basil in a little additional olive oil which helps prevent it from browning at the edges.