Archives for posts with tag: summer recipes

Yes, I am still here (I haven’t decamped for France again), but I thought you might enjoy a special tomato season treat, a guest post from my friend Deborah Sandler.

Deborah Sandler has enjoyed California’s bounty of fresh local food since arriving here in 1979, and swears never to live anywhere else because the food is so good.  She loves to cook and to feed people, and often tells her guests, “Nobody goes hungry at my house!” Deborah is a Farmer’s Market freak, often attending at least two a week, year round, rain or shine, on the lookout for whatever is in season and at its best.  Tomatoes are one of her favorite foods, and she shares one of her tomato recipes here.  When she isn’t cooking, she sings, and practices family law (while making sure to bring her office-mates lots of fresh food, because nobody goes hungry in her office either).

Original watercolor painting shows platter of tomatoes, olives, basil, feta cheese.

“My Somewhat Famous Tomato Platter.” (after Deborah Sandler). 8″ x 8″ Acquarelle on Paper. Sharyn Dimmick.

Tomatoes are finally in season!  I yearn for them during the winter, and sometimes am seduced into buying hothouse tomatoes that look lovely but do not have the texture or zing of the real thing.  When you bite into a tomato that has been locally grown, recently picked, and never refrigerated, the flavor is huge and unmistakeable.  When I was growing up on the East Coast, tomatoes came wrapped in plastic, colored a sickly pink, four to a package, all exactly the same size and shape, firm and tasteless.  I lived in the suburbs, and didn’t know anyone who was growing tomatoes, so it was quite rare that I got to taste a real tomato.  That changed once I moved to California.  Many of the restaurants featured amazing tomatoes in their salads, and friends actually grew some in their yards.  I had no idea a tomato could look, smell or taste like this!  In recent years, heirloom tomatoes have appeared all over the place, stunning in their profusion of shapes, colors and flavors.  Their names are poetic and whimsical – here are just a few examples from one web site that sells seeds for them, and from my  local Farmer’s Markets:  Arkansas Traveler, Banana Legs, Bloody Butcher (ew!), Cherokee Purple, Black Russian, Dingwall Scotty, Green Zebra (and yes, these have stripes), Halfmoon China, Hank (hey, that’s my dog’s name!), Jersey Devil, Berkeley Tie-Die, Brandywine, Mortgage Lifter, Mr. Stripey, Nebraska Wedding, Yellow Pear, and Stump of the World.

I live in Contra Costa County in the San Francisco Bay Area, about 30-45 minutes inland from the ocean and from San Francisco.  For those not in California, that means that the climate here is far different from that in San Francisco.  Where the City might be 62 degrees and foggy on a summer afternoon, here it may be over 100 degrees and sunny.  We get some of the San Francisco fog, but not much.  The down side is that our winters are colder, foggier, and danker than those in San Francisco.  We are only an hour from the Central Valley, which runs down through the center of the state, and where much of the nation’s produce is grown.  Even closer is Brentwood, a major agricultural area just to the east of us, that features plenty of U-Pick farms and orchards, as well as farm stands.  Because our local weather is so warm, plenty of people around here grow their own produce, and some even sell at the local Farmer’s Markets.  Here is a partial but by no means exhaustive list of Farmer’s Markets within 15-30 minutes of my house:  Martinez Sunday morning (I think this is now year-round), Martinez Thursday mornings, Concord Tuesday afternoons (year round), Concord Thursday evenings, Pleasant Hill, Lafayette, Moraga, Danville, Orinda, Walnut Creek Saturdays at The Shadelands and Sundays on Locust Street (more on these below), Martinez at the Contra Costa County Regional Medical Center, Walnut Creek Kaiser, Concord High School, and the list goes on.

My favorites are the Walnut Creek Saturday morning market at The Shadelands, and the Walnut Creek Sunday morning market on Locust Street.  Both are very large, with over 40 vendors,  and both are year-round.  The Saturday market is only a few years old but already bustling with happy patrons.  The Sunday market has been there over 20 years, and most of that time I’ve been there.  The vendors there have watched my kids grow up, and know me well as one of their regulars.  At The Shadelands, my favorite tomato vendor is Swank Farms, which has several tables strewn with all sorts of heirloom tomatoes every week.  At the Sunday market, I like Roseland Farms, where the seller has numerous flat boxes of heirlooms sorted by color.  He also is one of the very few vendors that sells San Marzano tomatoes, one of the world’s best cooking tomatoes.  These last weeks sitting out on the table, cook into very flavorful sauces and soups, or can be sliced into salads as firm yet flavorful dependable little oblong beauties.  Roseland Farms also has a big pile of cherry tomatoes of all kinds, and you can grab them by the handful or pick them out one by one.  The Shadelands market had a map with push pins, showing the location of each vendor, and how far away their farm is from the market site.  The average distance they come is only 89 miles.  The average distance food travels to our supermarkets is 1,500 miles.  The map had a sign on it reading, “Choose the food less traveled!”

Here is one of my favorite things to do with tomatoes.  This is my somewhat famous tomato platter.  Amounts are approximate.  I made this up, and it doesn’t have official amounts of anything.  Mess around with this as much as you want, and change it to your taste. The secret is the freshness of the ingredients.  And do not ever refrigerate tomatoes – it destroys their flavor!  Slice several heirloom tomatoes (as many colors as possible) onto a large platter in several layers.  You can make patterns of color or just do it randomly.  Chop up a handful or two of feta cheese and sprinkle that over the tomatoes.  Then sprinkle a generous handful or two of olives over that.  Lately I use mixed Greek olives from Whole Foods, and I recommend you not use olives from a jar – get fresh ones from an olive bar if you can.  If you have fresh heirloom cherry tomatoes in several varieties, sprinkle a handful of those over the top. Then chop up a generous handful or two of fresh basil leaves and sprinkle that over the top and around the platter.  The vinaigrette I use is homemade, and is quite tart, so you may want to try it separately before using it here, to adjust for taste if you want. This reverses the usual proportions in a vinaigrette, and has 2 parts vinegar to 1 part oil.  1-1/2 T best quality olive oil, 3 T red or white wine vinegar, 10-15 shakes of salt, 10-15 grinds of fresh ground pepper or 3 or 4 shakes of coarse ground black pepper, 2 or 3 shakes of granulated garlic, 2 or 3 shakes of dried mustard. Mix thoroughly and pour over the tomato platter, serve immediately.

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When I saw the list of vegetables from Riverdog Farm today I knew what I would be cooking soon: it is what I cook when zucchini first swings into season, along with corn and the first tomatoes — pancakes made of grated zucchini and fresh corn, bound with egg and a little flour, seasoned with fresh herbs, fried in butter and olive oil and topped with halved cherry tomatoes and a spoonful of sour cream. Can you say summer? Even late summer, as it turns out., or early fall. The seasons are wacko in California this year, with long spring rains and chilly weather, so all of our crops are later than usual.

Painting of Zucchini-Feta Pancakes and ingredients.

Zucchini-Feta Pancakes with Fresh Corn. 8″ x 8″ gouache and watercolor pencil. Sharyn Dimmick.

I first saw a recipe like this in Mollie Katzen’s Moosewood cookbook. As a non-lover of zucchini, I immediately saw the camouflage possibilities (My other go-to zucchini recipe is gingerbread muffins with grated zucchini). The first time I made it, I made it by the book. The next time I added fresh corn kernels and began topping it with tomatoes and sour cream, I love feta cheese — it is one of the cheeses I prefer to keep on hand, along with Parmesan, extra sharp cheddar and Gorgonzola — if I could only have four cheeses, those would be the four.

Why don’t I like zucchini? Does anybody care? I find the skin is often bitter and the flesh either bitter or insipid. I’m always disappointed when some Chinese restaurant fills their kung pau chicken with zucchini. I grew up eating zucchini baked in tomato sauce and topped with cheese and didn’t like that much either, but I am happy to make these pancakes whenever zucchini appears in the veggie box.

Here goes:

Zucchini-Feta Pancakes with Fresh Corn and Cherry Tomatoes

Grate 4 cups of zucchini. Salt it lightly and leave to drain in a colander for fifteen minutes.

While zucchini drains, separate 4 eggs, yolks into large bowl, whites into a small one.

Beat the egg whites until opaque and fluffy.

Add to egg yolks:

1 cup crumbled feta cheese (You can buy a block and crumble it with a fork or your fingers)

1/3 cup whole wheat pastry flour

chopped fresh herbs to taste — I like mint and dill. Basil is also good, or chives if you like an onion-y presence.

drained zucchini

kernels cut from 2 or 3 ears of fresh corn.

Fold in reserved egg whites.

Heat a skillet over medium-low heat. Fry cakes in a mixture of butter and olive oil (I usually scoop 1/4 to 1/3 cup of batter out with a measuring cup for each pancake).

Serve with halved fresh cherry tomatoes and a spoonful of sour cream or yogurt, or top with applesauce for a latke nouveau.

Notes: I often make just half a recipe, using two eggs and two cups of zucchini. And you don’t have to have zucchini — you can make this with crookneck squash, patty pan, or whatever summer squash comes your way, including mixtures of varieties.

If you don’t like feta, improvise with some soft cheese that you do like.

I haven’t tried this with grated winter squash or sweet potatoes yet, but it’s only a matter of time: you could even use summer and winter squash together as their seasons cross if you like both of them. And, of course, you can grate other things into them, but this is the way I like them.

Painting Note: I just updated the About page to include some notes on my painting media and process. If you are curious about the paintings, take a look. For information about “Zucchini-Feta Pancakes” or any other original painting please contact me here.

painting depicts Greek salad and ingredients

Greek Salad 8"x8" watercolor pencil and gouache Sharyn Dimmick

One of my friends wrote to me yesterday and asked me to address the issue of cooking and eating well when you are a household of one. I live in a household of two and I usually cook for both of us, but I used to live alone and cook for myself.

What makes you happy depends on your tastes: I do not mind eating leftovers — if I make something yummy I will want to eat it again and again. Some people want to eat different things everyday. If you are a person who craves freshness and innovation, some dishes are made for you. It is easy to prepare an individual salad, a bowl of pasta, an omelet, a plate of scrambled eggs, a sandwich, or a quesadilla. You can vary the ingredients by choosing the best of what you like that is in season: right now is a good time to put corn in quesadillas, zucchini in omelets, cucumbers in sandwiches and salads and peppers and tomatoes in everything.

In Northern California it is ideal to make Greek salad while tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers are in season. You’ll need at least one tomato, cuke and red bell pepper, more if you want a larger salad. Other than that, all you need is feta cheese, a jar of kalamata olives and the ingredients to make a vinaigrette: olive oil, lemon juice, red wine vinegar, garlic, dry mustard, salt and pepper.

I make my simplest vinaigrette by drizzling some olive oil over my salad ingredients. I don’t measure it — I just drip some on and toss the greens or vegetables. Then I take a small measuring cup out. I add to it one clove of crushed garlic, a large pinch of hot mustard, ground black pepper, a dash of salt and a tablespoon or two of red wine vinegar. I stir that up and dump it on my salad. Toss again. Then I taste it by picking out a leaf of lettuce or a piece of cucumber. Can I taste every ingredient? If you go easy on the salt and vinegar in the first pass, you can always add more. I like quite vinegary dressing (My friend Valentine says salad dressing gets sharper as you move from East Coast to West Coast and I was born here in the west).

When I make vinaigrette for Greek salad, I like to add the juice of a lemon, especially a home-grown Meyer lemon from the front yard. I add it just after I toss the salad with oil. I also keep the salt to a few grains because both kalamatas and feta are salty.

Food notes: You can use any kind of cucumber in Greek salad. I like Armenian cucumbers best because you don’t need to peel them, but I have made the salad with lemon cukes, English cukes, pickling cucumbers and the standard supermarket variety. You can use bell pepper of any color, or gypsy peppers. You can use full-sized tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, or grape tomatoes — I use what I have, but my favorites are little orange Sun Gold cherry tomatoes right off the vine. I like sheep’s milk feta better than goat’s milk feta, and I prefer French or Greek feta to others when I can get them (but a lot of my feta comes from the cheese selection at Grocery Outlet). Do use kalamata olives — canned black olives will not deliver the punch here. Leftover kalamatas keep well in the refrigerator. I like the clean taste of kosher salt, but you can use what you like.

Variations: In full summer, I sometimes add watermelon chunks to Greek salad. It’s not for everyone. If you are cautious, put a bowl of watermelon chunks on the side, transfer just one piece to your salad plate and see what you think.  If it doesn’t work for you, save the watermelon for dessert. Want more spice? Add a pinch of crushed red pepper flakes to your salad and toss well.

Greek Salad for One

Slice or chop one cucumber, one red bell pepper, and one tomato or a handful of halved cherry tomatoes into your salad bowl. Crumble in feta cheese to taste. Add some pitted kalamata olives (if you halve them, they will go further). Drizzle salad with olive oil and toss. Squeeze half of one Meyer lemon over salad. Toss again.

In the bowl of a measuring cup, make a vinaigrette of one small smashed clove of garlic, a Tbsp or two of red wine vinegar, a few grains of salt, a pinch of hot mustard. Stir together. Grind in some black pepper. Toss it into your salad. Taste and adjust.

It’s wonderful to eat this with a sourdough baguette to soak up the dressing — I “clean” my salad bowl with bread when I am done. If there are any leftovers (there shouldn’t be), they’ll be good for lunch tomorrow.

Painting Note: For information on “Greek Salad” or any other original painting, please contact me here.