Spring is rapidly moving into Summer as the cicada songs continue to fill the Nashville air and last evening, one lone lightning bug appeared in our yard. The local neighborhood farmer’s markets are just starting up and now we sit and anxiously await as the summer produce comes rolling in! Here’s a sampling of what we’ve been cooking up in the mean time…
I’ve really been on a salad dressing kick lately.
As a child growing up in South Carolina, we spent many weekends and weeks during the summer visiting my grandparents in rural Virginia. Papa had a huge farm with lots of yummy vegetables. Nana made a big pan of cornbread and cooked up all those veggies every day at noon for dinner. (Super was a snack and usually eaten around 5pm). On Sundays she even made homemade fried chicken! One thing she always had was a simple salad made of fresh lettuce from the garden and spring onions with a drizzle of warm vinaigrette consisting of apple cider vinegar, a little sugar, vegetable oil, salt and pepper. The warm vinaigrette would very gently wilt some of the lettuce. This always smelled so good to me but as a child yet I never ate it because I wouldn’t eat raw onions. As an adult, I have often thought back on that simple salad as I would really enjoy it now. Last weekend while visiting my Mom, she had lettuce from Mary Bauld’s garden and some spring onions from her garden so I suggested she make it as I wasn’t even really sure how Nana made the vinaigrette. It was delicious! We added cucumbers at my request.
A simple delight and a nice accompaniment to all those great summer vegetables. The vinegar just feels so cleansing, too. It is so easy to eat a more vegetarian diet during the summer.
What’s delicious with grilled meat, almost as tasty as mashed potatoes but way more nutritious, and orange all over? Butternut Squash Mash! I keep trying to come up with delicious and different ways to enjoy squash. I dearly love yellow summer squash but I am not a huge fan of other squash and neither is Grant, yet, squash is so nutritious and very plentiful and it is easy to find locally grown so we really want to incorporate more into our diet. Here’s a super easy, delicious side dish that lends itself easily to many exciting variations. The squash gets so soft when roasted that it isn’t even necessary to add stock or milk to thin it out before mashing. I used herbs and roasted garlic to spice it up but you could also use some blue cheese or gruyere, add some caramelized sweet onions, etc…
Butternut Squash Mash
1 butternut squash, cut in half with seeds scooped out
2 Tbsp unsalted butter
5 cloves roasted garlic
herbs de Provence
sea salt and pepper to taste
Heat oven to 450. Place squash halves face down in an oven proof baking dish and fill with about 1” water. Roast in oven for about 45 minutes. About 15 minutes into the roasting, place a head of garlic (with the top cut off and a little olive oil drizzled over) into the oven on a piece of foil, a dish or on a cookie sheet. Remove squash and garlic from oven and discard the remaining water from the dish. Turn the squash over, let cool a little. Be careful, it will be very hot. Scoop out the insides of the squash into a bowl. Add butter, 5 cloves of the roasted garlic. Toss in a few pinches of herbs de Provence, salt, and pepper. Mash squash and stir to mix it all together.
Another great for you but not always the tastiest of ingredients to us is quinoa. Grant, in particular, is not fond of quinoa so from time to time, I try to come up with some new way to disguise it. Quinoa (pronounced keen-wah) was the principal grain of the Incas. (It’s ancient!) Botanically, however, it isn’t really a grain at all. It belongs to the Chenopodium family which also includes beets, spinach, chard, and sugar beets. It is very easy and quick to prepare and it is packed with numerous health benefits. It is known as a high energy food and easy to digest. Quinoa offers a great amount of high quality protein and amino acids. It has more calcium than milk and it is rich in minerals. The below recipe even got Grant’s approval, although, I’m pretty sure one could mix any number of ingredients, stuff it in a pepper, and top with cheese and the end result would be quite satisfying.
Quinoa Stuffed Peppers
I cooked up the quinoa following the directions on the package. I used red quinoa, which is really pretty. I sauteed some onion and mixed it and the quinoa with the following- frozen corn, raw chopped spinach, a can of diced green chilis, chopped cherry tomatoes, sea salt and pepper, ground cumin, and some grated sharp cheddar cheese. I cut the peppers in half and then stuffed each half with the mixture. I then placed the peppers in a baking dish, covered with foil, and baked at 350 for 45 minutes to an hour. I then removed the foil and topped each with a little more shredded cheese and baked for about 10-15 minutes more. These made for a colorful and quite tasty little side dish!
Oh asparagus, how I love you! Every Spring, I can never get enough. Asparagus originated in the desert regions of North Africa and was used medicinally long before it was enjoyed as a vegetable. The Greeks and Romans used it for relieving pain from toothaches and for preventing bee stings. The actual medicinal property of asparagus is a substance called asparagine. It is nature’s most effective kidney diuretic, breaking up any oxalic and uric acid crystals stored in the kidneys and muscles and eliminating them through the urine (thus the sometimes strong odor in urine!). Asparagus helps to fight against cancer as it is chocked full of vitamins A and C, as well as folic acid and Vitamins B1, B2, and B3. That’s a lot of B! We love asparagus simply steamed with some lemon, salt and pepper but we also throw it into salads and risottos such as in this recipe below…
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 small Vidalia onion, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 cup mushrooms, sliced
2 cups arborio rice
1 cup dry white wine
6 cups chicken or seafood stock
12 Asparagus spears, cut in small pieces
fresh herbs (I used parsley & thyme), chopped
zest of 1 lemon
1-1 ½ cups Parmesan Reggiano, grated
freshly ground black pepper
1 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 can baby clams (mix the juice with the stock)
12-16 fresh (or freshly thawed) shrimp
½ lb fresh bay scallops
juice of half a lemon
The key to cooking risotto is to stir constantly so be sure to have all ingredients prepped ahead of time. Heat stock in medium sauce pan. Add sea salt and pepper and the clam juice. Stir. Once it comes to a boil, lower temperature to simmer. Heat oil in large flat pan on medium heat. Add onion and saute. Add garlic and mushrooms. Stir. Cook for a couple minutes. Add rice. Stir. Add wine and stir until wine is absorbed. Gradually begin to add stock in, about half a cup at a time and continue to stir. Stir until most of the liquid is absorbed. Add another addition of stock and stir until most of the liquid is absorbed. Repeat this process until the mixture is creamy and a bit loose; the rice should still have some chew to it. The process will take about 20 minutes. Right when you think you are getting close, add the asparagus. Meanwhile, in another sauce pan, heat butter and add the seafood in. Add the lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste. Add chopped herbs, lemon zest, and parmesan to risotto and stir. Once seafood is done, add it to risotto.
Don’t forget that left over risotto makes yummy risotto cakes!!!
I found the first peaches of the season and made some peach and blackberry pies for my family while in S.C.!
This week we look forward to our buddy, Knut Bell’s return to Nashville. You can read more about this great big old school country voice from the Pacific Northwest on Grant’s blog here.