Monday, September 23, 2013


Late September after all the rains can turn the taste buds toward mushrooms. They're sprouting all over the place, including farmers' markets where you can pick from a grand variety. And why not? Mushrooms are purveyors of nutritional benefits few other foods can manage, particularly hard to come by Vitamin D.

Mushrooms are also friendly with whatever ingredients you may have lurking in the fridge or pantry. Sauteed in a bit of butter with chives and leeks--all in season right now, they make a spectacular omelet if you use farm fresh eggs. Sauteed with shallots and radicchio--also in season, and kissed with a bit of cream, they really perk up pasta. Garnish heavily with chopped flat leaf parsley, freshly ground black pepper and grates of good Parmesan cheese. Put them on a goat cheese pizza with garlic and arugula.  Make a mushroom, celery, shallot and sage risotto using beef broth. Make mushroom soup from a miso or seaweed base, tossing in diced carrots, ginger and firm tofu. Sauté some with chopped broccoli and kiss with sesame oil. Possibilities are endless at this point in time.

Thanks to a major agricultural grant program, mushrooms have become a family farm cash crop in upstate New York and Vermont. Mostly shiitakes which are symbiotic with oak bark. A few downed logs and some spores, even in the short growing season, has yielded about $11,000 a year. And they sell out, trying to meet the demand of restaurants and gourmet markets. Here's hoping others take to the dirt and bring on the mushrooms.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

How to Save the Day

The tsunami of fruits and vegetables flowing through our farmers' markets right now is overwhelming. What to do with all this magnificent food? Well, enjoy what you can and then start thinking about tomorrow, about preserving it for those dreary days of scarcity called winter. Now is the time. And it doesn't take much time to insure you will have a nutritiously rich treasure chest for the lean months.

Make the last jam: peach, plum, apricot. Make extra for holiday gifts.
Save these last fruits in crisps (See How to Fix a Leek... under peaches) that take a second to prepare and freeze beautifully--I always make them in those disposable pie plates, cover with foil and then slip into a large baggie-- and make a dazzling dessert for Thanksgiving when everyone expects apple pie. Save the plums in basic cake (see How to Fix a Leek...under plums). To serve, heat the oven to 350º, slip the frozen crisp or cake in (still covered in tin foil), and cook until it's defrosted--10-12 minutes.

Hang on to all the luscious tomatoes flooding the stalls by making a major vat of spaghetti sauce you can freeze in small containers. The preparation is seriously simple: just cut up stuff and throw it all in a pot, let the pot simmer for hours and that's it.  There's a recipe in the October section of How to Fix a Leek... You can add ground beef and pork, or sausage to make it extra hearty. Just think about slurping up all those fresh vitamins and antioxidants in February.

Even simpler is Provencal tomato soup. This recipe is in my other book, Veggiyana, the Dharma of Cooking, but it's wonderfully basic: butter up some onions, coat them with thyme, chop up tomatoes and throw them in with a pinch of red pepper flakes. Cover and cook over low heat for 20 minutes. Add salt and pepper to your taste, a bit of minced fresh parsley and voila! a goldmine of excellent nutrition that freezes fantastically. Serve it in January with a grilled cheese sandwich.

Use tomatoes to save the eggplants and peppers pouring in. Make ratatouille (recipe in Veggiyana, the Dharma of Cooking uses cilantro instead of basil but you choose). It freezes well and can be used later as a vegetable or better yet, when you're really harried, as perfect with penne pasta. Defrost it, reheat it on simmer with a tad of fresh olive oil and freshly ground black pepper and pour it over the penne.  Add grated cheese and go. To make this dish extra hearty, add sauteed pepperoni or hot sausage to the heating ratatouille. Or stir in some marinara sauce.

Those red peppers so cheap now that will be so expensive shipped in to the supermarket later? See the red pepper coulis in How to Fix a Leek...It freezes perfectly in small plastic containers and can be defrosted to serve as a steak or burger sauce, a pasta sauce, the base of a white bean's uses are many and its vitamin contribution astronomical. So don't forget to save red peppers.

And then of course there's all that zucchini. Of course there's zucchini bread and stuffed zucchini boats that will freeze if cooked. The zucchini pie recipe in How to Fix a Leek... will also freeze if wrapped in tin foil and stored in an airtight freezer bag.  Slip it frozen into a warm oven to defrost and serve. If you're really drowning in zucchini right now, you can make a fabulous pasta sauce by sauteeing up a mess of onions and garlic plus a small red pepper minced, tossing in a handful of pine nuts, a healthy helping of oregano, chopped fresh basil leaves, chopped fresh flat leaf parsley, freshly ground pepper, coarse salt and a pinch of nutmeg. Cook it down to mush and then puree.  Serve over spinach pasta with or without chopped sausage and garnish heavily with grated cheese. Summer will taste mighty good in March.