When you eat seasonally, summer is a treasure trove! Not only is the gourmet chef-driven product at Farmer Jones Farm at The Chef’s Garden at its full bounty, they’ve also created veggie foods for your summer-easy creative cooking! I was happy to be hosted to experience it.
This time of year, Farmer Jones Farm boasts heirloom Ohio tomatoes! They come in a paint swath of colors: lipstick red, garnet purple-red, pinkish, yellow, peach, green, striped. Each has a different flavor profile, ranging from tropical fruit, vegetal, to that classic deep — almost slow-cooked — summer tomato.
Here’s something I like to do with baby, cocktail, cherry tomatoes: I simply cut them in half (use your sharpest paring knife) and create verrines. Verrines are little tasty morsels usually served in glass vessels, that are not quite an amuse bouche, definitely not a palate cleanser, nor an hors d’oeuvre. They can be sweet or savory, but are created to be especially exciting to the palate and pleasing to the eye.
Since a verrine is small and contained, it’s less of a fuss to make a perfect creation than working as a line cook at a Michelin restaurant. You can impress a special guest or indulge in some much-needed and deserved self-care. No matter what you add, you can feel good about practicing portion control. When you use a riotous combination of colors, it gives you the same pleasure of a well-done bento box: the contrasts rev up your gastric juices, thus, sharpening your appetite.
For this verrine, I used Farmer Jones Farm micro greens that have a wild, grassy punch of flavor. Garnishing with their edible baby flowers adds another complexity to the mix, as some flowers are very peppery! The baby red tomatoes I used were almost like a fine Italian tomato paste, they had such deep, raisin-y sweetness. Yellow tomatoes had a ripe, subtle, tropical fruit quality. Green tomatoes reminded me of white asparagus. On the bottom, I laid a Laughing Cow cheese wedge, which is a size and texture that that was very workable. Garnish with some of the farm’s baby thyme: magnifique!
Now – now – now is the time to get sweet corn! So, here’s the deal with corn: enjoy it today or freeze it. One or the other. I freeze corn thusly: shuck, drop in a big pot of boiling water for TWO minutes, not a second more. Remove with tongs, let cool. Take a sharp knife, cut off kernels, put in freezer plastic bags, squeezing out the air. Freeze. But wait, wait, there’s more! In a larger freezer plastic bag, freeze the corn cobs! When you’re ready, take about a half dozen cobs, boil in a big pot, simmer for a couple of hours. Take out the cobs, toss. This stock is a rich-tasting stock that you can use for chowder, posole, making rice interesting.
This is how I cook corn. Now, I know some people cook it in milk. But, that’s a lot of milk and I don’t need to be making big chowders all the time with the leftovers. So, I keep it in its husk and microwave for 2 minutes. Remove with an oven mitt, let cool a little bit before shucking. In Maryland, we like to eat corn with Old Bay and butter. I garnished with some baby thyme. Farmer Jones Farm has a variety of good, heirloom varieties. I tasted corn that was sweet, but nuanced, fruity.
The many types of lettuce from Farmer Jones Farm have varying colors, textures and levels of “bite”. Whether starring in a salad or supporting in a sandwich or low-carb lettuce wrap, you’ll be able to find something to meet your exact specifications. It’s even suggested that you can use ribs, leaves that might not be insta-ready for hot or cold soups!
When we were kids, deli meat sandwiches were the gold standard for lunch. But, as a nutritionist once told me, they have to be “a sometimes food,” as Cookie Monster now says. You just feel better and look better with the vitamins and fiber from veggies. Some people don’t eat meat at all! There’s a brand new product available, The Chef’s Garden Root Vegetable Slices.
So, what are they? They’re thinly sliced, lightly salted beets, carrots, turnips and parsnips. So, what do you do with them? Add a touch of oil to a flat top grill space or flat pan, sear them on one side (for about 3 minutes or so), flip them. No slicing! You use them like you would sliced meat for hoagies, cheese steaks, big Dagwoods, gyros, burritos. Their chef says they “top them with dressed lettuce and greens or cheese or smother in sauces. The sandwich, we have found, is only as good as the clothing it wears.” It has a sweet pickleness to it. I put it on homemade sourdough, with lots of fresh and cool veggies, along with some mayo. So, maybe you’re trying to stay away from the breads? I also seared them, then ran them under the broiler with some thin slices of pepper jack and mozzarella. Very satisfying!
Tuna Nicoise says easy-breezy summer to me. You can make them as simple or fancy as you please. Mine had arugula, heirloom tomatoes, slices of potato, jammy eggs — you can do hard for picnics — green beans, banana or other peppers sliced, black olives — can do Kalamata or of course, Nicoise. I made a vinaigrette with baby thyme, Dijon mustard, red wine vinegar, shallot, garlic, sea salt, freshly ground pepper. Apple cider vinegar is a good substitute. Good canned tuna packed in oil is authentic, but you could do a quick-seared tuna loin, sliced thinly.
If you are taking the salad to a party, hard-boil the eggs, make the beans and potatoes much earlier, put in fridge.
What’s something good to do in the summer with edible flowers? Why, a ridiculously easy cocktail that looks and tastes like you spent a tv show making it. I invented this! “Peach Melba Fizz”. Pour about 1 oz. raspberry liqueur in the bottom of a tall glass. Top with peach flavored sparkling water, stir, lay flowers on top.
Baby thyme has more vibrant flavor and more tender stalks than the stuff you normally see or even, grow. Sometimes, the simplest treats are the best: lay a few stalks on good buttered toast.
Baby eggplants come in a number of colors and shapes: white, aubergine, lilac. finger-shaped, round. Just know that they do turn plum-colored when cooked!
I made stuffed eggplants from a cookbook that my dad bought me many years ago. You can really gussy up forgotten things in the fridge or cupboard as stuffing. The basic start: halve them, take a paring knife and cut/scoop almost all of the meat, don’t cut into the skin. Salt, leave be for 30 minutes. Parboil for 2 minutes, haul out with tongs. Chop your eggplant meat, a garlic clove, plus anything else you like: leftover meat, sausage, scrambled eggs, mushrooms, veggies, white cheddar, bread crumbs, panko, walnuts, salt and pepper. Saute’ these in a pan, then take a spoon and gently fill your eggplant skins. Lay in a baking pan, bake at 375 for 15 minutes. You won’t believe how good this is! Top with melted butter and seasoned (that’s the secret) sour cream or yogurt.
Fritto misto is just a collection of battered and fried things. I made one with green beans (parboiled for 20 seconds, shocked in ice water), okra, baby eggplants sliced in half. I double-batter Maryland style, because that’s where I live and that’s where I learned to cook: get out 3 nice-sized bowls. Beat 2 eggs with seasoning in one. Add a good amount of flour, seasoned, in the second bowl. Bowl 3 is panko, seasoned. Dip in egg, then flour, back in egg, then panko, then into a deep pan with hot oil. A minute or so on each side, let drain on paper towels.
On a hot, sleepless night, you might want breakfast-for-dinner. Root Vegetable slices instead of bacon, some sauteed zucchini, homemade pancakes!
Want some easier crunch? Chop the top off a green pepper, sprinkle the inside with a little sea salt. I filled the pepper with chicken I poached in Farmer Jones Farm Flowerhouse Black Tea Malvaceae. That, with some red onion and salt is perfection!
Here’s another easy summer idea: blanch green beans for 30 seconds, chill in ice water, season with sea salt. It’s like American edamame, but you get to eat the whole pole! That’s a wholesome snack.