This post is brought to you by the peak gardening season in Minnesota, and a healthy dose of Minnesota nice. I was anticipating zucchini in our CSA box this week, and wanted to make vichyssoise with them. I had some potatoes left in the fridge from our 4th of July potato salad, but didn’t have any leeks. I went to our little farmers’ market with both kids in search of leeks. It’s been really hot here – and not just by Minnesota standards. I keep friends’ and family members’ locations on the weather app on my phone, and I can tell you that for weeks, it has been hotter here than some of the steamer locations in Virginia, the Carolinas, and even Texas. So, hauling both of my kids out in the hot, sticky weather is somewhat of a sacrifice. I got to our tiny little farmers’ market, and there was only one vegetable stand, and three or four chiropractor and new age-y type booths. Boo. To be fair, there are a lot of farmers’ markets in our area, and I could have scoped out another one. But once we were there, I had to check it out. (And I’m glad we did – it stormed and poured rain on Saturday morning, the other time we could have gone, so going earlier in the week was fortunate for us.) The one little vegetable stand had no leeks, but many other great-looking vegetables, and a really sweet farmer. I couldn’t bear to just turn away (Minnesota nice! Can’t say no! Especially to the darling little farmer who’s selling her wares in the heat!), so I looked around for something that likely would not show up in our CSA box this week – some beets. We wished her luck and headed to a farm stand. Lather, rinse, repeat. There were no leeks at the farm stand, either, but we bought bell peppers, tomatoes (!!!), canteloupe, and peaches (not local, of course). My four-year-old politely informed me that “you can’t squash the tomatoes.” OK. Good to know. Our final destination on our hot, sticky journey was our local co-op. I love our little co-op. It smells a little bit (OK, a lot) like hippies, and the employees look at you like you eat baby kittens if you don’t bring your own reusable bags, but that’s all just part of the charm. We bought the leeks (finally!!), berries, apples (out of season, but try telling that to my kids), some hippie sunscreen and bug spray, some cheese they were sampling, and a rotisserie chicken for dinner.
Twenty minutes after we walked in the door with all of these vegetables, my husband walked in with our weekly CSA box. So, we had a lot of work to do!
The zucchini vichyssoise (Barefoot in Paris), my originally planned meal, was delicious. It’s probably not hearty enough for a main course, even on really hot days, but it’s nice as a first course, or with some fruit or a salad for lunch. This is the second time in a week that my husband has raved about a cold soup (see also: summer borscht). According to Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking, it’s actually an American recipe. Who knew? The first time I heard of vichyssoise, I was in junior high, vacationing on Maui with my family. My dad, a grocer, had won a trip through his store – I think it was some kind of incentive for selling a large quantity of cat food or something. Regardless, yay us! We stayed at a gorgeous hotel, and it was really the fanciest trip my brother and I had ever experienced. One night, the trip included a prix fixe menu at the very fancy restaurant in the very fancy hotel. Our table overlooked a pool with swans swimming in it. The menu included a choice for the first course, and I didn’t know what to order. My dad suggested the vichyssoise, and coached me on how to say it so I could order it myself. He promised to eat it if I didn’t like it. I don’t even remember what it tasted like, but I remember feeling very important and sophisticated when I ordered it. That trip, and that meal, were great examples of what happens when you expect the best from kids, and they live up (I hope) to your expectations. My parents took a gamble by bringing an 11-year-old and a 13-year-old to Hawaii, but we had such a beautiful time, and we will always remember that trip, not just for what we saw, but for how we felt so grown up when we were there. I hope that my husband and I get to do something equally memorable and special with our kids someday.
The vichyssoise we made at home was really good, as I said. We had one zucchini and one yellow squash in our box, and I used them both. I certainly wasn’t going to go out and buy even more vegetables, or back away from the recipe that included those long-sought-after leeks! I was tempted to use the food processor instead of the suggested food mill, but I’m glad I didn’t. I think that would have made the soup too gluey and thick. The food mill was just perfect, and I had (very serious) help using it.
Now, about those beets. For years, I’ve been wrapping them individually in foil, roasting or baking them for at least an hour, letting them cool, peeling them after they’ve cooked and cooled, and then coating them in honey and butter. It’s like dessert, and the cooked, cooled beets can live in the fridge for a few days if you don’t use them right away. I don’t remember where I learned this method. I could have sworn it was Mark Bittman, but now I can’t find the recipe online. Regardless, it’s delicious, and I’ve been wary of using any other recipe. In the name of the project, though, I tried out the roasted beets recipe from Barefoot in Paris. My husband and I were divided. I still prefer the honey and butter recipe, but my husband really liked this way. I could have been jaded by the fact that I had to peel and cut beets that were still raw. Total pain, and I’m pretty sure I wasted more of the beet this way. But they didn’t have to stay in the oven as long, and they were still really good. They were firmer than the other way, and I liked that.
The bell peppers from the farm stand, along with the green beans from the CSA box, made a beautiful rendition of the French String Beans. (I didn’t use haricots verts, obviously, but the idea was the same.)
Finally, I made roasted eggplant caponata (How Easy is That?). I love eggplant. I don’t know if I really knew how much I loved it until I was an adult. I love eggplant parmesan, but my favorite way to eat it has got to be the way that it is served at our favorite Italian restaurant in Williamsburg, Virginia. There, they sautee it with garlic and tomatoes, and serve over pasta with a little cheese. I can’t tell you how many times I ordered it there, and then how many times I tried (and failed) to replicate it at home. This dip is not so different than Ina’s other eggplant dip, especially when you do as I did and omit the capers and olives. I used sundried tomato paste to up the flavor a little bit, and it was simply delicious. This is a great way to use up the eggplant from your garden or CSA box when you don’t have the time or the inclination to make an entire batch of eggplant parmesan. I used two different types of eggplant for this dish – Asian and Italian – and they blended well together. The pine nuts are a nice touch to give it some texture.
We loved all of these recipes. Any or all of them would be great with a roast chicken, or burgers, or some random leftovers that need an extra serving or two of vegetables. All of these recipes were made in one evening, while my husband was writing a sermon and the kids were “helping” me. In the same afternoon/evening, I washed, folded, and put away three loads of laundry, loaded and emptied the dishwasher a couple of times, figured out the intricacies of new(ish) health care and pension mandates from the national Episcopal Church (oh, I wish I was kidding), and peeled and steamed carrots for the kids. Crazy! We still have broccoli, bok choi, corn, and cucumbers from this week’s box, too, so we will eat well this week.
*Have you seen the kids’ movie and book series, in which animated vegetables talk about Bible stories? Simply hilarious. My husband said that if someone had approached him 20 years ago with this idea and asked him to invest, he would have laughed them out of his office, and admits that it would have been a huge mistake due to the eventual success of the program. My favorite are the squashes who eat meteors made of popcorn.