Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Dog Days Of Summer

Ahhhh. The dog days of summer are here. Sweltering, sticky heat is upon us. No longer are we jazzed about our new bathing suits or that first trip of the year to the beach. August, without doubt, is one of my least favorite months of the year for all of these reasons and more. There is one thing, however, that gets me through the month with a smile. Food. Ok. Truth be told, food probably gets me through most of the year with a smile, but August does it in style....with produce.
How many neighbors, relatives or co-workers do you know that, during the month of August, bring you paper bag after paper bag filled with squash, zucchini, eggplant, cucumbers, green beans, peppers and of course.....tomatoes! Then proceed to practically beg you to take that beautiful bag of garden fresh veggies off their hands because, "my garden is simply bursting with these things and I just can't eat them all". Or how often do you walk into the grocery store or farmers' market and see that sign for tomatoes or zucchini that advertises something like 3 pounds for a dollar. 3 pounds for $1!!! It's enough to make you want to put your family on an all tomato diet for the rest of the summer. And the cucumbers. I just bought 5 for $1 the other day. Yes. 5 cucumbers for one dollar. It's nature's equivalent of a clearance sale. And I'm here to help you find something....anything different to do with these lovely gifts from mother nature....and your neighbor of course ;) These aren't the most gourmet or elaborate recipes I've ever posted but part of using fresh ingredients and making them shine is, well, leaving them the hell alone.

This week we're tackling tomato, eggplant, basil and cucumber. Next week we tackle corn. Don't miss it. It should be aMAIZEing!

Let's start with a rather unusual use for cucumbers. It's my drink of the month.....a lovely Cucumber Cocktail.
The only thing better than having your neighbor bring you a bag of beautiful cucumbers from her garden would be if she also handed you a fifth of gin to go along with it. If for some reason you have a neighbor that's this cool, be sure to say thank you, call me and let me know where you live because I might think of investing in property around said neighbor's house, and last but not least.....make this drink. I first tried something like it at my favorite celebrity chef, Eric Ripert's restaurant, 10 Arts. It was sweet and salty and had a few chunky bits in it. It was rather complex. It was good. Ok. It was really good. But I'm a bit of a purist when I make my drinks so here is my version...

-1 cucumber, peeled
-1 tbs. fresh lemon juice
-A double shot of gin (Hendricks would certainly be the best for this since it's actually flavored with cucumber but I used one of my favorite multi-purpose bottles of gin....Seagram's)
-1 tsp. simple syrup

Take the cucumber and cut about 1/8 of it off...reserve for later. Take the rest of the cucumber and run it through a food processor or blender, then take the puree and put it through a fine sieve. You just want to get the cucumber juice out and discard the pulp (you can make a lot of this and keep it in the fridge for a few days if you really love this drink). Now mix the cucumber juice, lemon juice, gin and simple syrup in a shaker with ice and give it a nice beating. Serve on the rocks with a lemon and cucumber slice garnish and if you like, cut up the reserved piece of cucumber into small cubes and throw into the drink for texture, flavor and a bit of decoration. This is what mine looked like. I think it's quite pretty :) Try this before summer is over. You will be glad you found a use...that tastes this good...for that bag full of cucumbers.

For the main course - Pesto Crusted Chicken with Deconstructed Eggplant Parmesan
If you grow basil in your garden you know that by this time of the summer that basil looks like it's ready to take over your yard. That stuff can grow. And if you never thought you were a big pesto fan now is the time to give it a shot. It couldn't be easier. It's just oil, basil, garlic, nuts and cheese thrown in a Cuisinart. You don't even have to cook the damn thing. Oh. And I forgot. You can make a million different kinds of pesto. I make a bitchin spinach and walnut pesto for those who aren't too keen on basil. I'll write that recipe when spinach is in season though ;)

-3 cups fresh basil leaves (1 large bunch)
-1 large clove of garlic
-1/4 cup toasted pine nuts(or walnuts, or almonds...I think I've used both in a pinch)
-1 tsp. lemon juice (optional but it adds some zing)
-1 tsp. kosher salt
-1/4 tsp. black pepper
-1 cup olive oil
-1/4 cup Parmesan cheese

Throw everything in a food processor. Turn on. Blend until it reaches the consistency of a paste...or whatever consistency you desire. If it gets dry add more oil. If you want to save some in the fridge be sure to cover with plastic wrap and have the wrap actually TOUCH the surface of the pesto to avoid oxidation.
You can toss this with linguine (like I did in the picture). Or rub some on a chicken breast or thigh and pan sear (also in the picture). Or spread on a toast point with a slice of fresh tomato as a sort of crostini. Or stuff some white button mushrooms with it and a bit of fresh mozzarella then bake off. The possibilities are almost endless.

Deconstructed Eggplant Parmesan:
I love eggplant parm. But it's just about one of the heaviest dishes I can imagine and whenever I make a WHOLE dish of it we end up freezing 3/4 of it, then forgetting about it, and then throwing it out. This take on it is my new favorite. You can make it for 2 or 20 AND you get to use up those fresh tomatoes you've got lying around.

-1 medium eggplant
-2 tomatoes
-1/4 pound mix of mozzarella & provolone cheese
-2 cups bread crumbs (just go ahead and buy the italian seasoned ones in the store)
-2 eggs - beaten with a tbs. of water
-1 cup flour
-enough vegetable oil to fry in - 1 1/2 - 2 inches deep

Slice the eggplant into rounds. Leave the skin on. Heat the oil to approx. 375 degrees. Create your dredging station. Have a bowl of flour, then egg, then breadcrumbs in a line. First toss the eggplant in the flour. Then in the egg. Then in the breadcrumbs. Then gently place it in the oil. Fry until golden brown on both sides (flipping halfway through). Repeat with all pieces of eggplant. When they're done frying place them on a paper towel to dry. While they're draining place some tomato slices on each one then cover with slices of cheese. Place on a baking sheet and broil until the cheese is melted. Approx. 3-4 mins, but keep your eye on them. Serve as soon as you can to ensure they're crisp and delicious. Perhaps top with a chiffonade of some of your leftover know...pretty it up a bit ;)

1 comment:

  1. Nature's equivalent of a clearance sale!! That's brilliant! How am I ever going to start a diet with all these taste-tempting recipes to try?