” There is no technique, there is just the way to do it. Now, are we going to measure or are we going to cook?”
Frances Mayes, Under the Tuscan Sun
I traveled to Tuscany today and did not leave my kitchen. Cherry tomatoes still on the vine and a big bunch of fresh basil all harvested from a generous friend’s garden held the promise of a simple Italian lunch.
Some like it hot is an understament in this household. We like to tease one of my sons as liking food with his hot sauce! On a recent vacation in Lewes, DE, we had to stop at Peppers, a specialized store offering the world’s largest collection of hot sauce. With names like Spontaneous Combustion, Satan’s Rage and Black Mamba Six Gets Bitten, this is not a store for sissies! We walked out with a huge bag of very different sauces. This got me intrigued as to what made the difference in the sauces and I started reading labels. The ingredients seemed pretty simple: essentially peppers, onions, garlic, vinegar and seasonings. We thought it would be fun to try making our own at home. I made two batches, one green and one red and recipes for both follow.
“Homegrown tomatoes, homegrown tomatoes
What would life be without homegrown tomatoes
Only two things that money can’t buy
That’s true love and homegrown tomatoes”
John Denver(Lyrics by Guy Clark)
I have been thinking about this tart for over 10 years since it was first served at a brunch. It was that good! Taking advantage of fresh tomatoes and fresh basil abundantly available right now, it is bursting with the taste of summer in every bite. It is basically a cooked pie crust on which fresh mozzarella is sprinkled while it is still hot, then wedges of fresh tomatoes piled in. These are then dotted with a purée of fresh basil and garlic. The whole thing is then finished with a topping of mozzarella-parmesan-mayonnaise which bakes into a gratin-like top. Serve like you would a quiche but this is no quiche: this tart is all about the tomatoes without eggs. Very different, fragrant while it bakes and soooo delicious! I just hope it won’t take you 10 years before you make it!
“A great fig should look like it’s just about to burst its skin. When squeezed lightly it should give a little and not spring back. It must be almost unctuously sweet, soft and wet.”
My neighbor Marty opened his garden to me today and I picked some gorgeous Russian lettuce. Totally unknown to me, Marty touted its powerhouse health benefits in green smoothies. Russian lettuce has more of the texture of kale so I created a recipe using it in a hearty salad with honey balsamic roasted figs, herbed chèvre, toasted pistachios and some crispy prosciutto which is totally optional but pairs perfectly with the figs. The vinaigrette was made with orange juice, honey and dijon. A delicious salad to ease summertime flavors into fall!
My neighbor Laurie’s apple tree is chock full of apples and she is sharing the windfall. Now these apples are truly destined for baking. They are a bit tart and often blemished, which is precisely why I like them. The tree is untreated so I know these apples are organic and I have just the recipe for transforming them into a delicious but healthy snacking cake. I call this my “Back To School Apple Cake” since I used to make it for my kids when they were little. It was a sweet treat without guilt. There are 3 cups of apples in the batter for just 1 cup of flour! Applesauce is used to reduce the fat content with a mere 2 tablespoons of oil. A scant 2/3 cup of sugar sweetens this easy cake. You could substitue honey or maple syrup to make it even healthier and swap out half the all-purpose flour for whole wheat. I love how the apples, peel and all, go in there for both speed of preparation and a boost in fiber. It is a quick cake, not too sweet, moist, fool proof, yet tasty. Feel free to throw in some nuts or raisins if you like. I always make 2 and freeze one. I love my neighbor Laurie!