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Archive for July, 2010

Among summer’s incredible bounty are fresh-shelled peas of all varieties: from fava beans to English peas to whiteacres and more.  Last week at the Morningside Farmer’s Market I picked up a couple of pints of pink-eyes, knowing they’d been shelled a few hours before and I’d be cooking them a few hours later.

Raw pink-eyed peas

There are many wonderful things that you can do with fresh peas.  I highly recommend this black-eyed pea, corn, and tomato salad from Virginia Willis’ Bon Appetit, Y’all.  After seeing her make this last summer (and tasting it!) at a market demo, we enjoyed this salad at home several more times last year.  I certainly don’t intend to let this summer slip by without making sure it’s as good as I remember.

Cooked pink-eyed peas and grits

But my favorite thing, and the easiest, to do with fresh summer peas is just to boil them up and serve them in their own broth, perhaps over rice or grits.  Here I served them over stone-ground grits cooked with fresh cream and parmesan.  A friend said she topped the same thing with crumbled up local bacon, and I just bet that it was out of control.

Simple Fresh-Shelled Peas

Fresh-shelled peas – pink-eyes, whiteacres, field peas, and on and on
Enough liquid to cover (you could use just water, or use vegetable or chicken broth or bouillon)
1 white onion, cut into eighths, length-wise
Salt and pepper to taste
Optional: Ham hock

A note on seasoning: My mom and grandmother would never have cooked peas without a ham hock in the broth to flavor them.  Salty, fatty, savory, and smoky, pork is used to flavor much Southern cooking – here’s a new book with recipes and history that calls pork “the King of the Southern table.”  (If anyone feels like buying me a present, feel free to make it this book!) However, as a vegetarian for many years, I adapted this dish to my needs.  I found that a few cubes of veggie bouillon, the cut up onion, salt, and maybe some additional olive oil or butter for fat content mimicked very well the taste I remembered from childhood.  If you do use bouillon, broth, or ham hock, you will need far less salt in the cooking liquid than if using just water, so do adjust accordingly.

To cook: Place peas in a pot with onion and enough liquid to cover.  Boil for 20-30 minutes, or until tender but still firm and not mushy.  As the peas cook, you will notice a gray foam forming on the surface of the water – simply skim this off with a shallow spoon and discard.  Taste before serving for salt and pepper.  As mentioned, these are wonderful just in their own juices, perhaps with a piece of cornbread to soak up the liquid, or on top of white rice or creamy stone-ground grits.  Serve and enjoy!

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When Rachael and I started The Mimi Project, we compiled a list of recipes – with the help of other family members – that we wanted to re-create.  Mimi died at Christmas last year, and Rachael and I inherited her treasured recipe box.  Every time I talked to Mimi in the months before her death, she told us that she was busy getting the recipes cards organized for us, a fact our Aunt Mary Anne confirmed.  Mimi spent hours at the dining room table, combing through those cards, ostensibly trying to get them in some kind of order.  I think the exercise might have been more about reminiscing, thinking about all the good things she had cooked and all the things she would still like to cook.  Lord knows, she cooked until the end!  After reading Rachael’s post about failed ice-box cookies, Mimi baked us a batch – they were fresh and waiting for us on Christmas morning just days after her death.

Thinking of Mimi lovingly mixing and forming and baking cookies for us even as she was dying, it’s clear to me why I feel such a connection between food, love, and family.  I was touched, then, to discover a recipe attributed to my brother Michele as I sorted through Mimi’s cards.  Rachael, Michele, and I share the same mom (and thus the same Mimi!) – but Michele’s dad is not ours.  Michele’s dad Maurizio is Italian, from Florence, but I’ve had the pleasure of knowing him my whole life as he now lives in Tallahassee, Florida.  He is a sweet man, an accomplished scholar/designer (he’s been working on the Large Hadron Collider!) and a wonderful cook.  I remember distinctly finding a jar of Barilla pasta sauce in my mom’s fridge many years ago – it was a new brand to our area back then, and I wanted to try it.  It was delicious – just like home-made – and I excitedly bought another jar on my next trip to the grocery store.  Imagine my disappointment when I opened that jar to discover the flavorless, processed stuff that I should have expected – and I realized immediately that the jar I’d found in my mom’s fridge had been a gift from Maurizio, homemade marinara sauce re-packaged in a recycled jar.

Michele’s sauce-making abilities rival those of his dad, so when I found this marinara sauce attributed to Michele among Mimi’s recipes, I knew immediately I had to make it.  I found the perfect use for the sauce when I came across another of Mimi’s recipes, for “zucchini lasagna.”  It wasn’t until I was in the middle of cooking the zucchini lasagna that I realized that there are no lasagna noodles – the whole point is to replace the pasta with vegetables.  It’s simple, surprisingly good, and a great use for all those squash and zucchini at the farmer’s markets right now.  And of course, for me, it’s a casserole that represents the layers of love and family that I connect to through cooking.

Michele's Tomato Sauce

Michele’s Tomato (Marinara) Sauce

1 large can whole peeled tomatoes (I like organic San Marzanos, like these)
2/3 tbsp olive oil
Half an onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tbsp sugar
Cayenne
Salt and pepper

In a medium sauce pan over medium heat, saute the onions and garlic in olive oil until soft and translucent.  Do not let the onions or garlic get browned or crisp.  Add the tomatoes, sugar, a dash of cayenne, and salt and pepper to taste.  Crush the tomatoes with a wooden spoon and cook over low-medium heat until the tomatoes are broken down and flavors are melded, at least 30 minutes.  Taste for salt, adjust as needed, and serve.

Mimi’s Zucchini Lasagna
Serves 6-8

1/2 pound ground beef
1/2 c. chopped onion
1 15 oz. can of tomato sauce (or equivalent homemade – which is preferred!)
4 medium zucchini (about 1 1/4 pounds), sliced into rounds – I used a combination of zucchini and summer squash
2 tbsp. flour, divided
1 (12 oz.) container of cottage cheese
1 egg, beaten
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees.

In a large saute pan, cook onion in olive oil over medium heat until translucent.  Add ground beef, browning and stirring to crumble.  Add tomato sauce, taste for salt and pepper and adjust seasoning as needed.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer uncovered for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Set cooked ground beef and tomato sauce aside.

In a large saute pan over medium heat, saute zucchini – I used a non-stick skillet and basically no olive oil.  The squash and zucchini cooked nicely and even browned a little bit.

Spray a 12″ x 8″ x 2″ baking dish with non-stick cooking spray or olive oil in a mister.  Combine cottage cheese and egg.  Start with a layer of zucchini on the bottom of the pan.  Then sprinkle with 1 tbsp of the flour.  Spread a layer of the cottage cheese mixture, then spoon half of the meat sauce over the cottage cheese.  Repeat layers.  Bake casserole at 375 degrees for 35 minutes (until hot and bubbling).  Sprinkle with mozzarella cheese and bake another 5 minutes, until cheese begins to brown.  Let the casserole rest for 5 minutes before serving.  I garnished it with a chiffonade of basil – but it’s wonderful on its own, too!

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