Friday, June 10, 2011

Veggie Night

I don’t know about you, but this is my favorite time of the year.  It’s the start of fresh local produce being available.  Asparagus and spinach have been available in the area for quite some time, and strawberries are in season right now.  As the summer progresses we have a lot to look forward to.  I know that a majority of us can’t wait to sink our teeth into a still warm, vine-ripened tomato that was raised in their own (or someone else's) backyard. 

Whenever I think “fresh tomatoes,” I remember a summer day more almost fifty years ago.  We were sitting in the sun on Aunt Rose Ella’s front porch on Halteman Road in East Coventry Township.  The tomatoes in Uncle Bob's garden were plentiful, and we made sandwiches using Stone Ground Whole Wheat Bread.  I can still remember the yellow and black label on the bread package.  Slathering on the mayonnaise, we added several slices of tomato, onion, and American cheese.  A little salt, some pepper and…heaven!

I can't wait!
I don’t know what it was that day, but those sandwiches were the best I had ever tasted in my short life...and since.  I ate at least four of them, and I could eat one right now!

This is the time when strawberries stop tasting like cardboard and you can count on the price coming down on almost everything.  Even if the fruit or vegetable you crave isn’t currently ripening within a ten-mile radius, this is the time of the year it has to travel much less to get to you.  The flavor testifies to that fact.

All of this inspired me to have a “Veggie Night.”  I dispensed with meat protein and made three different types of vegetables.  My decisions were governed mostly by what I had on hand.  The first two recipes are my own creation and the third was found in a fellow blogger’s post.  The menu included:  Green & Yellow Squash in Tomatoes, Baked Cauliflower, and Grilled Prosciutto-Wrapped Asparagus.

Green & Yellow Squash in Tomatoes

1 medium onion halved and sliced
2-3 Tablespoons olive or grape seed oil
1 teaspoon basil
½ each, green and red bell pepper, chopped
1 can diced tomatoes
¼ cup honey
1 each, medium zucchini and medium yellow squash, cut into ½” slices
sea salt
ground black pepper

Sauté one medium onion that has been halved and then cut into slices.  Olive oil is perfect for sautéing this, but lately I’ve been using grape seed oil.

Grape seed oil is made from…(are you sitting down?)...grape seeds.  It is a light oil and has a slightly sweet and nutty flavor.  It holds up well under high heat and is rich in vitamins E and C.  It has been shown to lower harmful LDL cholesterol and, important to me, raise good HDL cholesterol.  Use about 2-3 Tablespoons of oil and add dried basil leaves as you sauté.

Add the chopped red and green bell peppers as they are readied.  

When the vegetables are beginning to get tender, add the can of diced tomatoes and honey, reduce the heat and continue to simmer gently.

While the tomatoes and vegetables are cooking, slice two medium squash; one yellow and one zucchini.  Cut them into ½” slices and lightly coat them by tossing in a couple of Tablespoons of oil.  Sparingly sprinkle them with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper and place them on a cookie sheet in a 350° oven for about ten minutes.  

After ten minutes, turn on the broiler element and allow the tops to brown slightly.  While the squash still has some crunch, add them to the tomatoes and sautéed vegetables.  Keep warm until ready to serve.

Baked Cauliflower

1 head of cauliflower, cut into pieces
2 Tablespoons olive or grape seed oil
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon celery salt
2 Tablespoons freshly chopped parsley (or 1 T. of dried parsley flakes)
3 heaping Tablespoons seasoned bread crumbs
3 heaping Tablespoons grated cheese

Toss pieces of cauliflower in oil, coating them lightly.  Place cauliflower in a casserole dish, add remaining ingredients and toss.  Bake at 350° for 30-45 minutes, or until tender and beginning to brown.  Toss once half-way through cooking.

Asparagus, trimmed
Olive or grape seed oil
Sea salt
Ground black pepper
Prosciutto, thinly sliced

I modified Celeste’s directions slightly.  For the original directions, click on the link in the heading above.

Place about 2-3 cups of water in a casserole dish and heat to boiling in the microwave.  Blanch the asparagus by placing it in the hot water and setting a timer for three minutes.  During the three minutes, return it to the microwave and zap it on high for one minute.  Allow the asparagus to stay in the hot water until the timer goes off.  Immediately remove it from the hot water and place the asparagus in a bath of ice water.  Allow the asparagus to chill for about five minutes.  Remove and pat dry with paper towels.

Lightly drizzle the asparagus with oil and season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Divide the asparagus into bundles of 4, wrapping each with two slices of prosciutto.  You can grill the asparagus, seam side down over medium-high heat for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the asparagus is tender.  Since I already had the oven hot, I placed the bundles on a cookie sheet in a 350° oven.  Turn the bundles half-way through cooking whether you grill them or bake them.

I served the vegetables with cornbread, and they were not only delicious, but I felt really healthy while eating them.  Remember to visit local farmers and farm markets like:

Make it a point to enjoy our local bounty!  

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