Sunday, July 29, 2012

My Summer Tomato

Ah...tomato season is just about here.  My favorite time of year!  Tomatoes have been my favorite fruit since I was about 2 years old.  My Nonno (Grandfather in Italian) had a fantastic garden, which is probably the reason I am so picky about my veggies to this day.  He had me eating salad with him at a young age.  He grew all kinds of veggies in his garden.  I remember red leaf lettuce, cucumber, zucchini, eggplant, peppers, but most of all tomatoes.  I also remember a peach tree and a blueberry bush.  But I will never forget the taste of his garden tomatoes.

I may be too young to remember, but my cousin often reminds me of how my Nonno would start growing his tomatoes indoors in February.  As long as I can remember, my grandparents would be in Florida until May and I would make sure they were home for the summer just before my birthday.  My cousin says that my Nonno would start his tomatoes in February, inside the house using artificial light.  This way we would have tomatoes a little bit earlier than the typical tomato season.

My brother and I would eat dinner with my grandparents every Friday night and often sleepover during the summer.  We would have salad and fish, often, my favorite, scallops.  I remember the plethora of vegetables on the counter and my grandparents chopping and preparing all the vegetables for salads or to cook with.  My favorite salad that I still eat to this day was what I called tomato cucumber salad.  It is a very simple salad, but with fresh tomatoes it tastes great.  My grandparents would peel and chop tomatoes, cucumber, onion, and sprinkle some italian seasoning on top.  Then, mix with some oil and vinegar.  Perfection!

As I grew older and my grandfather passed on, I still enjoyed the taste of tomatoes, but I could never find that taste that I remember from his garden.  I would go to the supermarket and buy all kinds of tomatoes; yellow, green, roma, cherry, grape, vine, hothouse, you name it, I tried it.  But still, none ever compared to my Nonno's tomatoes.  Finally, about five years ago, when I started shopping at my local farmers market I found that taste.  That taste reminds me of my Nonno and puts a smile on my face, that is my summer tomato.

Shortly after that, going to the market became a weekly trip.  Buying in-season fruits and vegetables tasted so much better than what is industrially produced in the supermarket.  However, just a shopping trip wasn't enough for me, I quickly began researching vegetables, how they are grown, when they are in-season, and most recently how to preserve them.  I didn't know that fruits and vegetables do not taste the same when they are not in-season.  Since I have come to this realization, I try to eat most of my fruits and vegetables in season.   I rarely buy one of those perfectly round red things at the supermarket.  I prefer to get tomatoes you see at the farmers market that come in a variety colors and are not all perfectly shaped, some even ugly.  In addition to my research, I read Animal Vegetable Miracle.  I learned so much about growing fruits and vegetables from this book.  If you haven't read it, it is worth it alone just for the seasonal recipes.  This book really speaks to the importance of eating local and the attitude that America has towards food.  Following fellow bloggers have also help me to prepare food that is in season.  And now here I am writing my own blog and sharing my experiences and challenges of trying to eat local year round.
In an effort to eat tomatoes in the winter, I had my first canning experience last summer.  My friend and I bought 25 pounds of grape tomatoes.  We canned about 15 pounds and tried other ways of preserving as well.  I tried freezing them whole, as well as, roasting them in the oven and then freezing.  I still have one bag left in the freezer, so it is possible to last the winter, however my husband does not eat tomatoes, so more for me!  We plan on doing this again this year by dedicating a whole weekend to canning tomatoes while they are in season.  Then I can have my summer tomatoes all year long :)  

Here are a few of my favorite summer recipes that I learned from my Nonno and Nonna:

Tomato-cucumber salad

1-2 fresh garden tomatoes peeled and chopped (picked same day is best)
1 small cucumber diced
1/2 small red onion
1tbsp good quality olive oil
1tbsp red vinegar
sprinkle of italian seasoning

mix all vegetables together, mix oil and vinegar and pour over vegetables, top with italian seasoning

Zucchini Pancakes

1 large zucchini sliced
1 egg beaten
1/2 cup bread crumbs
2 tbsp olive oil
parmesan cheese

Heat up a frying pan on medium high heat.  Pour olive oil in the pan.  While that is heating up, dip zucchini slices in the egg and then coat with bread crumbs.  Put in the hot pan and turn when the side is brown.  Repeat until all the zucchini is cooked.  Sprinkle the cooked zucchini with parmesan and enjoy!

Eggplant Parmesan

1 large eggplant sliced into circles
1 egg beaten
1 cup bread crumbs
lots of olive oil
1 can tomato sauce (I used trader joe's marinara sauce and it came out great!)
1 cup mozzarella cheese
Sprinkle of parmesan cheese

Preheat oven on 350.  Slice egg plant into thin slices and sprinkle each slice with salt and drain in a strainer.  Heat a pan with a generous amount of olive oil on medium high heat.  Dip eggplant slices in egg and then coat with bread crumbs.  I prepared several of these before putting them in the pan to keep things going quickly.  When one side has browned, turn onto the next side until brown and then set aside on a plate.  Repeat until all the eggplant is cooked.  Then in a 13x9 baking pan make layers of eggplant slices, sauce, cheese and repeat until the pan is full.  Bake in the oven on 350 for 30 minutes.  When you take it out of the oven, let it cool for a few minutes.  Then cut into squares, sprinkle some parmesan cheese and enjoy!

I made this recipe with my cousin over the weekend and it tasted just like my Nonna's!  We didn't make our own sauce, but it came out great with the trader joe's marinara.  You can also cut the eggplant lengthwise and make an eggplant lasagna.  I wish that I got a picture of this, but I guess I will have to make it again!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

When life gives you lemons, make lemonade!

My market visit last week was to the Wayland Summer Farmers Market.  I couldn't wait to get back to this market because I wanted to visit Extra Virgin Foods (the vender).  I purchased a bottle of their olive oil at the Wayland Winter Farmers Market and I have been due for a refill for some time now. I love the taste of this olive oil to use on salads or to make my own salad dressing.   The olive oil has a very light peppery taste that I look for in a good olive oil.  The oil is great for cooking as well, I just prefer that nice taste on my salads.  Extra Virgin Foods also features greek yogurt, sun-dried olives, frozen greek yogurt, and spanakopita.

Other vendors you will find at the Wayland Summer Farmers Market include Brigham Farm, Caledonia Farm, Charlton Orchards, Flor D'italia Pasta & Cheese, Three Oak Farm, and many more.  Charlton Orchards has tons of blueberries and it appeared that some peaches and plums are starting to come out as well.  Oh the many tastes of summer!  I also sampled a sun-dried tomato spreadable cheese from Nobscot Artisan Cheese.  Delicious!  Since it is hot outside and I don't want to turn on my oven, I purchased some mixed greens, arugula, and scallions from Three Oak Farm out of Weston.  I immediately went home and made a fresh salad.  I also bought some breakfast sausage from Caledonia Farm to eat with my eggs in the morning.  On my way out of the market, I bought a lemonade from Hanson Farm.  This was a refreshing treat in a 32oz cup of fresh squeezed lemons, limes and oranges, with your choice of sweetener.  A nice addition was the fresh mint right from their farm.  Since it was a nice, hot summer day, this was my favorite part of the market.
What do you like to drink on a hot summer day?

You can check out the Wayland Summer Farmers Market on Wednesday from 12-5 at Russells Garden Center.

My trip to the market

Made into lunch!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Better Late Than Never!

Happy belated fourth of July!  I visited the Arlington Farmers Market again since they were open on July 4th.  I got some fresh vegetables and fruit for an impromptu gathering at my apartment for food, drinks, and fireworks. This is a great time of year to be shopping at the farmers market because the good fruits and vegetables are starting to come out!  There was zucchini, cucumbers, radishes, tomatoes, onion, nice leafy greens, herbs, raspberries, blueberries and more.  

Since raspberry season seems to be in full force, I bought a 1/2 pint on Saturday, thinking that I'll put them in a salad.  However, as usual, the raspberries did not last past Saturday.  They just tasted so good!  So I bought more on Wednesday in Arlington. Those were safe for my salad.  All week I have been craving a salad with a little sweetness to it.  I took the lettuce that I bought at the Waltham Market and tossed in some raspberries and pecans. Then, I crumbled some maple flavored fromage blanc cheese from the Foxboro Cheese Co. Since I have been reading the new Food In Jars cookbook, I learned that you can make a good dressing with jam.  I had some raspberry jam, which is a local, in the fridge and mixed it with some balsamic vinegar and olive oil. Yum! My goal for the party was to use as many local ingredients as possible. And the outcome was good! I served salsa, which was all local except for the limes. And if you know where to get local limes, let me know, my salsa would be completely local grown! I used canned grape tomatoes, my last jar from last seasons summer canning, onion, garlic, jalapeño, and the juice of one lime. The canned tomatoes make really good salsa and it's so easy. Put them in the food processor and give a quick pulse. For guacamole, I decided to try something different which I had read about in a magazine. I used lemon juice instead of lime juice. And there was not any leftover, so it must have been a good choice. My guacamole consisted of two avocados, garlic, tomatoes, jalapeño, and juice of one lemon. By adding a pitcher of margaritas to the mix, it started to look like a Cinco de Mayo party. What can I say, I love my chips and salsa!

Some other items I served, which I did not make, were some munchies such as olives and cashews and also goat cheese and crackers with tomato jam.  I have to say that I really got into jam last year after taking a canning class and ended up buying a lot of homemade jam at the market to try it out.  Although, I myself did not make this tomato jam, it will be something that I make this year.  I bought it from Bart's Farm last fall at the Waltham Farmers Market.  I saved it for this long because I wasn't really sure what to do with it.  Last week, I decided that I had to use this jam.  I opened it while my husband was making hotdogs.  I hadn't eaten a hotdog in years.  Maybe I've had one at a red sox game, but it's really just not my thing.  I thought that maybe I could eat a hotdog and use the jam in place of ketchup.  Since last week I have had three hotdogs and I think my husband was beginning to worry.  I usually keep a very healthy diet and I don't consider a hotdog to be a part of that.  So, I needed to use up this jam in another way.  Again, my Food in Jars cookbook came to the rescue.  There is a tomato jam recipe in the book and it stated that you could eat it with a stinky cheese.  Since not many people like a stinky cheese, I went to the market to see what I could find that might pair well with a sweet jam. That day that only cheese at the market was gouda from Smith's Country Cheese, which I love, but would not be a good pairing, and goat cheese.  I was ambivalent about the goat cheese, but I took a chance and bought it anyway.  The outcome, no leftovers!  And it is something I would serve again!

Needless to say, everyone was able to watch fireworks from my deck with their bellies full of local food!

Here are the recipes:

 Fresh Greens with Raspberries and Pecans

1 head fresh green lettuce, I suggest red leaf, romaine, or boston
1 1/2 pint of raspberries
1-2 generous handful of pecans
1/2 container of maple flavored fromage blanc from Foxboro Cheese Co.

1 Tablespoon Raspberry Jam
2 Tablespoons Balsamic Vinegar
1/3 cup Olive Oil
A pinch of S&P

Whisk together all the ingredients

Fresh Salsa

One can of grape tomatoes (you can also use 10-12 fresh grape tomatoes)
1 small-medium onion diced
1-2 garlic cloves minced
1 jalapeno diced
Juice of 1 lime

Put the tomatoes in a food processor and give a quick pulse.  Put in a bowl and set aside.  Diced onion and jalapeno, mince the garlic, and make sure to wear some gloves while cutting the jalapeno.  Put all the chopped veggies in with the tomatoes and mix well.  Juice the lime and mix in with the salsa.  Stir well and set in the refrigerator for about 20 minutes or longer, if you have the time, to let everything settle in.


2 avocados mashed
1 garlic clove minced
1/4 cup tomatoes diced
1/2 jalapeno diced
Juice of 1 lemon

Cut the avocado in half length wise.  Scoop out the pit and set aside.  Scoop out the flesh of the avocado and put in a mixing bowl.  Mash the avocados with a potato masher until most of the chunks are gone.  I like to have some avocado chunks in my guacamole, so I leave a few chunks in there.  But if you like it smooth, just mix until all the chunks are gone.  Mince the garlic and diced tomatoes and jalapeno.  Mix in with the mashed avocado.  Squeeze the lemon juice into the bowl and mix well.
If you are not serving your guacamole immediately, I put the pits into the guacamole to keep it fresh while it's in the settling in the fridge.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

So Fresh!

Two weeks ago,  my step-brother got married at the Groton Country Club!  Congrats to him and his new wife!  Conveniently enough, the Groton Country Club is located near a great farm in Littleton, Springdell Farm.  Since my Dad is familiar with the area, he took me on a little farm adventure the next day.  He brought me to Gibbet Hill Grill.  Gibbet Hill Grill is located in Groton MA and well known for using meats, vegetables, fruit, and dairy from local farms, including their partner farm, Springdell Farm.  It is located on a beautiful hill where you can see the cows from Springdell Farm.  It's no surprise that many couples choose to have their wedding receptions here.  What I also found was a large garden in the back of the restaurant and an herb garden in the front of the restaurant. They are able to grow there own food and serve it at the restaurant!   This is a fairly new concept to me known as the farm to fork movement.

After a bit a research about the restaurant, I learned there is quite a bit of history about the farm that goes back to the 1600's.  Throughout all the history of the land, I found that Gibbet Hill Grill was established in the 2000's.  The land was purchased by a Groton native to preserve the land in the town.  The main source of their produce comes from this land, which is their own farm, Gibbet Hill Farm.  Gibbet Hill Grill also works with other local local farms for produce, dairy, meat, seafood, and beer and wine.  I saw a winery on their list that I used as favors at the rehearsal dinner for my wedding, Westport Winery, in an effort to support the local movement.  Since our adventure was in the morning, we didn't eat at the Gibbet Hill Grill, but we have before.  At the time, I did not know about there farm to fork philosophy, but I plan on going back to check out the in season local meals.  

Living close to the city, it is difficult to find a restaurant that is fortunate enough to have the land large enough to farm and run a restaurant.  On the Livin' Local Boston Facebook page, I posted a link to a new farm to fork restaurant, Farmstead Table, opening up in Newton Centre in the first week of August.  This restaurant will be featuring produce from local farms the Newton Community Farm, and farms in nearby towns such as Brookline, Norton, and Needham.  A restaurant up in Nashua, NH, The Saffron Bistro, recently hosted a farm to table dinner using ingredients from local New Hampshire farms to host a four course dinner.  I didn't attend this dinner, but I got to hear all about it from my Dad.  He even sent me a picture of the bees they used to make the local honey.  He frequents the Saffron Bistro and sends me texts about the local items on the menu each week.  I heard that there will be another farm to table dinner in the fall at the Saffron Bistro, in which I plan to attend.

I love the idea of supporting local farms by using their ingredients in the meals served.  Not only is it supporting local farms, but the quality and taste of your food will be so much better.  I will be looking for these farm to fork restaurants opening up in the Boston area.  I hope that this is a trend that will catch on!

Check out the photos from Gibbet Hill Grill

Free Range Black Angus

The Garden

The Herb Garden