GOD-DESS

Simple! Sensible! Sensational!®

Winter 2005-2006
© 2005 by Bret S. Beall

END OF THE HARVEST SEASON!

In Chicago, until the middle of November, we still had no frost! Amazing! I hadn't had the chance to really do as much cooking as I would like due to other responsibilities, so up to now I felt like I had somewhat missed the harvest season (a relative statement, since I'm usually cooking non-stop this time of year). Since I "went crazy" at the organic farmers market recently, I had a pile o' produce on hand. Coupled with the fact that I had to leave town for a week, I realized I needed to do something about all of this produce, or it would go to waste.

This is going to be more of a technique column, an insight into what I do with food "on the fly" that also allows me to have some incredible ingredients on hand during the winter to create masterpieces. A lot of this column will be rehashing information presented previously, but I do this to bring together lots of information that is scattered over several years of writing. Even though much of the US has now been hit by freezing temperatures, many (if not most) of you are probably still able to get fresh produce from the local farmers markets, so rush out, get the end of the harvest, and use some of the ideas below to make some great food and to stock your freezer!

Tomatoes

I was able to grab a bunch of heirloom tomatoes recently. Usually, they are so gorgeous that I just slice them raw and use them in salads or in a fresh tomato sauce with a bit of mint or basil (http://www.god-dess.com/services_recipesAugust03.html), or in that delicious Tuscan bread salad, panzanella (http://www.god-dess.com/services_recipesAugust05.html). However, due to travels, I knew I wouldn't be able to use all of them this way. So, I did three things with them:

1. Roasting: I had a pile of cherry tomatoes. I sliced them in half longitudinally, doused them with olive oil, salt and pepper, and roasted them face up on a baking sheet at 500°F for about 15 minutes, until they just began to caramelize on the edges. They freeze really well, and are great in a number of applications (http://www.god-dess.com/services_recipesOctober03.html). I also sliced some of the larger heirloom tomatoes and roasted those as an experiment. They lost integrity completely, so I scooped them onto a cutting board, chopped them with some roasted scallions (see below), and made a roasted tomato pasta sauce that I froze.

2. Frozen raw: Frozen tomatoes tend to become chewy and soggy. However, I decided to try chopping them in ¼" cubes and freezing them. I haven't done this before, so I am imagining I'll just add these colorful cubes to another cooked dish so that their texture will not be an issue.

3. Simple cooked sauce: When I have lots of "ordinary" tomatoes, I make my famous ragout (http://www.god-dess.com/services_recipesSeptember03.html). However, this time I had a number of beautiful golden tomatoes, and decided to make a quickly cooked golden tomato sauce. I just cut up a bunch of peeled tomatoes into ½" cubes and tossed them into a sauce pan over medium heat (I didn't even add olive oil or butter, but you could). As they were cooking down, I added salt, pepper and some chopped fresh scallions. Within 20 minutes I had a sauce that is beautiful with its orange color and flecks of green from the green onions, and delicious with the natural sweetness of the ripe tomatoes.

Green Onions

I was given a couple of bunches of green onions (scallions), and again, needed to process them before leaving town. I processed them using two techniques:

1. Roasting: roasted scallions are delicious atop green salads. They freeze well, and are quite a surprise when thawed out in the middle of winter. They do tend to become tough, so chop them. Follow the directions at http://www.god-dess.com/services_recipesApril03.html and then either freeze them whole, or chop them add them to a sauce as I did above with the roasted slices of heirloom tomatoes; trim away any leaves that may have burned (it DOES happen).

2. Chopping and freezing: I roasted one bunch of the scallions, but decided to just chopped the other bunch in a food processor (trim the roots and any nasty leaves and outer layers of onion), spoon into ice cube trays (each cube is about 1T), add a bit of water so that they freeze solidly, and put ito the freezer. When solid, empty the cubes out of the tray and store in a plastic bag. This allows you to take out 1T of finely chopped scallions to add to any dish.

Basil and other leafy herbs

I've written about making basil pestos and freezing them for future use (http://www.god-dess.com/services_recipesSept04.html). However, sometimes I don't feel like making pesto, or don't have time, so I just take a bunch of basil leaves, grind them up in the food processor with a bit of water or olive oil, and then spoon into ice cube trays as described above for the chopped scallions. You get the flavor of fresh basil throughout the winter. By the way, you can do this with lots of other leafy herbs, like sage or arugula (see below); rather than using an entire tablespoon of these herbs in a dish, you can take a cube and shave off what you need. Use a sharp knife or rasp.

Beets (roots and leaves)

When I was at the market, I was thrilled to find not only the usual purple/red beets, but also chioggia and white (!) beets, all with their tops. This gave me the chance to double my future dining pleasure.

Roasted Beets: I discovered last year that roasted beets freeze really well, with only a minor loss in texture. Follow the instructions at http://www.god-dess.com/services_recipesOctober03.html and then slice the cooked beets in ¼" or 3/8" slices. Lay the slices on pieces of plastic wrap, and wrap tightly, preferably in single layers, but I've sometimes doubled up the slices, separating each layer with plastic wrap. Even frozen, a salad in the dead of winter made with these frozen beets and dressed with olive oil, balsamico, some toasted walnuts and bleu cheese never fails to elicit gasps in awe of the beauty and the flavor.

Sauteed beet greens: At the end of the column at http://www.god-dess.com/services_recipesJune03.html, I have a recipe for wilted greens. This is essentially the technique I used with the beet greens, though I omitted the bacon, using olive oil instead. I removed the stems from the leafy portions first, chopped the stems very finely, and sautéed them in about ¼"c olive oil with half a bunch of finely chopped green onions; I also added about 1 T of roasted garlic that I had on hand, toward the end, after everything was soft. While the stems and scallions were sautéing and softening, I cut the leaves into 3/8" "chiffonade." I had about 4 cups of sliced leaves, and when the stems and onions were soft, I added the greens, about 5 grinds of black pepper and about 1t of salt, and turned them with a spoon to cover with the oil. When the greens were wilted, I cooled them and put them into cup-capacity freezer containers; note that I omitted many of the ingredients, like vinegar, because I wanted just basic greens that I could apply in any number of ways. These could form a bed for a piece of pan seared salmon or a baked trout, or be mixed with some steamed potatoes for a version of colcannon (a future recipe), or added to some beans (see http://www.god-dess.com/services_recipesMar03.html), or to a tomato-based pasta sauce for a little extra nutrition (and color!). I love having ingredients like this in my freezer. You can do this with any sort of winter green (kale, collards, etc.), but I'll be addressing these vitamin packed products in a future Simple! Sensible! Sensational!® column.

Asparagus

I had a pound of asparagus that needed to be processed, and roasting immediately came to mind. Just follow the recipe at http://www.god-dess.com/services_recipesApril03.html (the same one that I use for roasted green onions; see above), and freeze flat, wrapped in plastic wrap, for a delicious, unexpected and dramatic addition to winter salads, appetizer platters, soups or even a side dish with steak or fish. These roasted spears are so flexible in their application.

Arugula

I couldn't resist a bagful of young arugula at the organic market. I ate a bunch of it out of the bag (love it!), and added more to salads with the late season baby lettuces. But I still had lot to deal with. I couldn't waste it! I could have turned the arugula into a puree as described above for basil, but instead I removed the long stems and sautéed the whole leaves in a tiny bit of olive oil, and froze them in ice cube trays. I'll report on some of the future applications of this technique.

Squash

No, I haven't processed any winter squash yet, but I'm going to. With Thanksgiving coming up, I wanted to remind you of the easy to follow instructions at http://www.god-dess.com/services_recipesNov03.html. Squash are full of vitamins, and they're just darned delicious, so revisit them now. If you have the oven turn on to cook other recipes, go ahead and roast some winter squash at the same time (saving energy!) and freeze the chopped flesh for future uses.

OK. I've now reported on what I do to have a well-stocked freezer for the wintertime (a dear friend refers to it as my "Magic Freezer"). I hope you'll try some of these techniques while you have access to late harvest products, and that you'll share some of your own experiments and applications with me at 773.508.9208 or bret@god-dess.com. I'm going to be using some of these preserved products in future recipe columns and newsletters, so stock up now, and be prepared for these future writings!

 

BACK TO COOKING, FOOD & ENTERTAINING