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2014 0803 Cucumber saladBe adventurous if you have the luxury of a garden, even one in a pot. That’s why I’m growing dragon’s eggs. Within 20 minutes, I have the prospect of four farmers’ markets, our CSA, working farms that sell what they grow, an organic indoor vegetable market that sources widely, and then some. Yet the variety of produce is pretty narrow in range. Take cucumbers for example. We see the ubiquitous cuke called Marketmore (that name’s no surprise) and seasonal Kirbys for pickling. Grocery chains sell English and Persian versions wrapped in plastic, clearly not local and probably not that fresh.

2014 0803 Dragons egg cucumber

Once in a while, sourced from local farms, we’ll see the golden spheres of Lemon Cucumbers, which I’ve grown myself, or super long Armenian cucumbers, which are actually melons. Or, for a fleeting moment last fall, Mexican sour gherkins, which I wouldn’t have known about but am growing now. Also technically not a cucumber, these inch-long, oblong fruits resemble miniature watermelons and are crisp little bites. The Chinese farmer who attends our local Saturday market usually has the best options for out-of-the-ordinary cucumbers and melons.

2014 0808 Dragon's Egg cucumber on the vineThis year, I’ve discovered two cucumbers that I highly recommend. One, Suyo Long, needs a giant trellis to grow, I’m sure, since the ones I’ve snagged at the farmers market are about 18 inches long. Crisp and flavorful when the skin is left on, they out-rival the English cucumber although they do have seeds. The other, my new hero, is the Dragon’s Egg. It’s about the size of a large duck egg and fits nicely in the palm of your hand, a beautiful object. Creamy white and melon-like in flavor, they’re relatively thin-skinned so you can eat the whole thing. The vines are mad scramblers and the plants, covered with bright yellow flowers favored by bees, are very prolific. As an heirloom, they’re susceptible to cucumber wilt but if you’re as lucky as I, you’ll get a healthy size crop before then. I grow them tightly spaced for shade along a 4-foot high “fence,” which I’d prefer to be 5-6 feet high. You could grow them in a pot topped with a tomato cage. They need a good amount of water, from the base, and in the heat of summer, it helps if they get some shade during part of the day.

2014 0808 Dragon's Egg flowerHere, I paired Suyo Long and Dragon’s Egg in a simple salad. After slicing cucumbers, I lightly salt them, park a few ice cubes on top, and let them sit on the counter for about 10 minutes. This draws out a little liquid but lightly flavors and crisps them. Sprinkled with a little white wine vinegar and seasoned with tarragon or dill, and you’re good to go. I topped mine with Greek yogurt flavored with finely minced scallions, dill and parsley.

Cucumbers are highly nutritious, full of Potassium and Vitamins C and K and other antioxidants, and more versatile in the kitchen than most people realize. I had a delicious cucumber curry in Sri Lanka a couple of months ago. Now, with the success of the Dragon’s Eggs, I’m preparing for next year’s Poona Kheeras!

2014 0802 Apricot and Raspberry JamFor three weeks, I’ve gone to the farmers market muttering my annual “fil mish mish.” Literally, that means something like “in the time of the apricots,” or “tomorrow there will be apricots,” which is Egyptian slang for “wishful thinking.” And that’s what it was, wishful thinking that I would find local apricots, that is, until they fleetingly appeared, with stunning raspberries. What a great, Melba-esque combination. Last year, I made Apricot and Sour Cherry Jam, and the year before, Apricot and Red Currant Jam, both as rosy-hued and tangy as this one.

2014 0802 Apricots in a BowlI have a couple of standard steps that I take with apricot jam, but vary it according to the ripeness of the fruit, its companion fruit if there is one, and my time. I typically use under-ripe apricots and kick-start the maceration or initial boil of fruit and sugar by adding a tiny bit of water. This time, the apricots started to soften and were surprisingly juicy (for apricots), so I skipped the water. The apricots were mixed with sugar and lemon juice (plus peel and seeds in a muslin sack) and left to stand for a couple of hours. Since the ripe fruit was collapsing, I brought the whole concoction to a boil, cooled it and let it sit in the refrigerator overnight. (This is in contrast with my approach to apricot and currant jam, where large chunks of apricots became suspended in jewel-like liquid because I cooked the liquid and fruit separately. If I’m out of time, I might skip the last step altogether.)

Raspberries added to apricotsI added the raspberries just before cooking the jam. My raspberries were big and blowsy and therefore not too seedy. If yours are seedy or if you just don’t like seeds in your jam (I like the crunch), puree the raspberries and strain the liquid into the apricots (like I did with the currants)

This was delicious and rather gentle, predictably less strong than the sour cherry version and less tart than the one with red currants.

Apricot and Red Raspberry Jam

2 lb fresh apricots

2 c sugar

Juice of 1 lemon, pits and peel reserved

½ dry pint red raspberries, misted if they seem dusty from the field

Prepare the apricots. Wash them and remove the pits. Cut them into 1/2-inch chunks and place them in a bowl with the sugar and lemon juice. Tie the reserved lemon seeds and peel in a muslin sack (the lemon pits and peel will release their pectin into the fruit to help the jam gel) and immerse it in the apricot mixture. Let the apricots macerate at room temperature for an hour or two, stirring occasionally to make sure that the sugar is dissolving. Place the apricots and their liquid to a saucepan and bring to a bare simmer. Pour the mixture into the apricot bowl. Let cool and then sit for about 6 hours or overnight in the refrigerator, covered with a crinkled piece of parchment paper (and plastic film if your fridge had odors from other food).

When ready to make the jam, prepare the canner, jars and lids if you’re going to process them via water bath. Place a saucer into the freezer for testing the gel

Place the apricot mixture and the raspberries in a wide saucepan, bring to a boil and cook until the liquid tests for gel when a drop is placed on the frozen saucer. Do not overcook. Apricots foam a lot so you can add a dab of butter to the pot to control that, or plan on skimming the finished preserves before jarring them. Depending on the firmness of the fruit, the mixture might be smooth or chunky. If you want a smooth jam, use an immersion blender or whisk to break up any chunks

Ladle into hot prepared jars and cap them with two-part lids. Process in a water bath for 10 minutes after the water returns to a boil. Turn off the heat, remove the canner lid and let sit for 5 minutes. Remove to a counter to sit undisturbed until completely cool.

Makes about 6 four-ounce jars.

 Garlic scape and white bean pureeGarlic scape pesto stirred into white bean puree and sweetened with a dab of honey can be served warm as a vegetable dish or cool as a spread. It makes a terrific open-faced sandwich (known as a tartine) spread on crusty bread and topped with chopped tomato, herbs and chopped olives. Or a dip for pita chips or vegetables.

I’ve been giving away armloads of garlic scapes and getting questions about how to use them, especially how to turn them into pesto. Compared to pesto made from tender greens such as basil, dill, cilantro, etc., which classically include nuts and sometimes grated cheese, I find that garlic scapes are study enough not to need the texture introduced by nuts. It has a similar texture and you don’t run the risk of serving it to people with nut allergies. I make mine the simplest possible way, finely chopped in the food processor with Kosher or sea salt and a few glugs of olive (enough to achieve a pesto that can be spread). That’s it. Packed in small containers and stored in the freezer, it keeps for a year.

 Garlic scape pestoDried beans are a staple at our house. I cook a pot every week. While they take a few hours elapsed time soaking or simmering on their own, they take under five minutes of your time, in small increments. First, I buy the freshest dried beans I can find, typically organic, often local, sold in bulk at stores with a high turnover. I also favor Rancho Gordo beans, which we can now get locally (I stock up at the San Francisco farmers market whenever I travel west). Expensive but worth it, especially for formerly rare heirloom varieties. These beans are Ayocote Blanco, a joint project between Rancho Gordo and farms in Mexico, known as the XOXOC Project.

Cooked white beansIn response to a recent question, this is how I cook dried beans on the stove (with a note for doing it in the oven). After rinsing the dried beans in cool water to remove dust and checking them to pull out any small stones, I place them in a deep pot covered with water, three times the volume of beans. I leave them to soak for a few hours (not longer for recently dried beans since the skins will loosen). I liberally salt the water, adjusting the volume if the beans have swelled a lot, and bring it to a bare simmer over medium-high heat. As soon as the surface of the water starts to move slightly (but before it comes to a real simmer), turn down the heat to the lowest possible setting (use a metal plate between the burner and the pot) and cook until tender, anywhere from 30-60 minutes. (You can instead put them into a 200-degree oven in a covered, heavy Dutch oven. Check them every so often to regulate the heat and test for tenderness. When cooked, remove the beans from the liquid to a bowl to cool and reserve the liquid. If using the beans right away, dress them (e.g., with olive oil and vinegar) when warm. If storing, return the cooled beans to the liquid and store them in the refrigerator for a week or so or in the freezer.

2014 0706 IMG_4777 Stuffed Patty Pan SquashAliens landed in the squash patch. Yellow and green gnarly star-shape flying saucers, about 4 inches across, are amazingly little sculptures. They seem improbable as food, and produce the same kind of wonderment as kohlrabi. And, like insects, they probably offer inspiration for science fiction when greatly expanded in scale.

Stuffed Patty Pan Squash

 Halved Patty Pan SquashHalved and hollowed, they became shells for a summer medley of corn and squash, punctuated with scallions and held together with the remains of last season’s canned tomato sauce (though you could use this year’s fresh tomatoes). To hollow these flattish squashes without piercing the shell, I score a circle in the center with segments using a grapefruit knife and use a small spoon to scoop out the flesh in large chunks.

Sometimes I steam the shells, especially when they’re small, but here, I brushed them lightly with olive oil and roasted them in a hot oven, cut side down, while I made the filling. I cooked the chopped squash flesh on the stove until very brown and caramelized, but I could have roasted it along with the shells. Combined with sautéed corn and scallions and bound together with a few spoons of tomato sauce and grated cheese, it made a summery filling for the squash shells, which were then baked in the oven.

Patty Pan Squash Stuffed with Corn, Squash and Tomatoes

3 four-inch diameter patty pan squash (or more small ones)

Olive oil

Salt

2-3 scallions

1-2 ears of corn, kernels sliced off

1/2 c homemade tomato sauce or 3-4 plum tomatoes, diced

A few leaves basil

¼ c grated mild cheese or cubed fresh mozzarella

Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Halve the squash horizontally and, using a small paring knife or grapefruit knife, score a circle about ¼ inch from the perimeter of the squash. Make 6-8 diagonal slices, taking care not to pierce the outer shell. Using a small spoon, carefully remove the zucchini flesh in pieces as large as you can. Dice the zucchini flesh and set aside. Lightly brush the squash shells with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and place, cut side down, on a baking sheet. Roast in the oven until crisp-tender when tested with a small instrument like a turkey trusser (approximately 10 minutes for thick-skinned squash, possibly less for thin-skinned, smaller versions). The goal is to cook the shells somewhat but leave them sturdy enough to hold the filling and not collapse during the second cooking. Remove them to a glass or ceramic baking pan to cool. (Use the pan you’re going to bake them in.)

Meanwhile, pour a little olive oil into a heavy pan on low heat and sauté the reserved squash over medium high heat until lightly browned and dried out. Add the scallions and corn sauté until they start to soften. Add the tomato sauce or diced fresh tomatoes and stew, reducing the heat. Set aside to cool for a few minutes. Add the basil and cheese and spoon the mixture into the shells.

Bake at 350 degrees until slightly bubbling and browned, about 25 minutes.

Serves 6 as a side dish, 3-4 as a main dish.

2014 0718 Pickled garlic scapes and clovesI got on a roll. With a bucket full of garlic scapes and one successful Korean pickle, I knew there had to be more options. Of course there were.

2014 0718 Garlic scapes and clovesOn a blog called Kimchimari was a versatile recipe from the author’s Korean mother-in-law. It consisted of a pickling base of equal parts soy sauce, rice vinegar and sugar that was boiled and poured over, in one recipe, sliced cucumbers and chili peppers, and in the other, garlic cloves and scapes. They were called “summer pickles” or “jangahjji.” Fermented for three days or so at room temperature submerged in the pickling liquid, the vegetables were drained and the liquid was re-boiled and poured over the vegetables. They were then left to ferment for another three days or so, after which they were jarred and refrigerated. What could be simpler than that?

2014 0718 Cucumber chunks for picklesFor the cucumber pickles, I soaked small Persian style cukes in ice water, which both allows them to crisp and also to shed any hidden sand. If the cucumbers are bumpy and thorny, scrub them with a little coarse salt before slicing them.

2014 0718 Pickled cucumbers and peppersAlso, before you start, pack the vegetables in the storage jar you will be using and fill it with water. Drain the vegetables and measure the water. Adjust the pickling liquid to match this amount, erring on the high side, since it’s better to have too much and use it for some other purpose than have too little and not have the vegetables submerged. I used wheat-free tamari, unseasoned rice vinegar and white granulated sugar, 1 cup of each for a 1 1/2 pint straight-sided canning jar.  This is a new style for Ball, and uses a wide plastic cap or two-piece canning lid. To keep the vegetables submerged during the fermenting period, I used an inverted small plastic Ball cap, which fit perfectly.

How are Korean summer pickles eaten? Stirred into rice of course, along with a little of their liquid. Very refreshing in the summer heat. They are just “cooked” vegetables and not condiments, though a little lovely piece of simply cooked fish on the side does wonders for the combination.

2014 0714 IMG_4809 Garlic scapes in Korean red pepper sauceIt was quite by accident. Just when I thought I’d exhausted my repertoire of things to do with garlic scapes, I discovered Korean pickling. I had a large Chinese cabbage from our CSA and set out to ferment it into kimchi with the idea of adding garlic scapes instead of (or in addition to) scallions. There, at the blog named Kimchi Mom, was a recipe for spicy pickled garlic scapes that was receiving rave reviews.

2014 0714 IMG_4795. Korean hot pepper paste sauceThe scapes are fermented (and pickled) using a pour-over-brine method for a few days until they soften and start to turn yellow, and are then dressed in a combination of Korean red pepper paste (kochujang), red pepper flakes, fish sauce, white vinegar, brown sugar and minced fresh garlic.

This is an addictive condiment that probably would store well in the refrigerator except for being devoured on the spot. I have another batch underway already!

The kochujang that I can get at our local Asian food market is hot red pepper paste, and since I didn’t want to burn our mouths, I diminished the proportion in the mix. I noticed that Kimchi Mom has a way of making her own fermented paste from red pepper flakes, so that will be on my future list to try. I am astonished that Korean red pepper is sold in such extraordinary volume. The smallest package is 500 grams (a little over a pound) but you can get it in 2- and 5-pound bags. Since that could be a lifetime supply, the fact that it loses potency when the package is opens means it’s time to experiment.

Fermented Garlic Scapes, Korean Style adapted from Kimchi Mom blog

1 lb garlic scapes

3 c water

2 tbsp sea salt

2 cloves of fresh garlic, minced

2 tbsp hot Korean red pepper paste (Kochujang)

2 tsp Korean red pepper flakes (sometimes called “powder” but it should be flaky)

1 tsp fish sauce

1 tsp white vinegar

1 tbsp brown sugar

Wash and trim the garlic scapes and cut them into approximately 2-inch lengths, placing them into a glass or ceramic bowl. Bring water and salt to a boil and pour over the scapes. Place a saucer or other object in the bowl so that the scapes are submerged. Set the bowl aside out of sunlight and away from heat, and let the scapes ferment for 4-5 days or longer, until they are softened and somewhat yellowed. Drain and discard the liquid. Taste the scapes for salt, and rinse them if they seem too salty.

Combine the remaining ingredients into a spicy sauce and stir it into the drained scapes. Pack into a jar and refrigerate.

2014 0712 IMG_4867 Zucchini Tomato Corn Soup

Summer cooking is mostly simple and fast. My husband says he’s starving and putters in the garden for half an hour. Meanwhile, I can make an entire lunch, including soup from scratch. Nothing beats freshness, especially when it seems more complex with a few simple tricks. My trick in this case is having vegetable broth on hand, corn broth made from a dozen stripped cobs after I made a fourth of July picnic salad, and trimmings of celery, onions and carrots. 

2014 0712 IMG_4854 Floral Spires BasilThe broth, along with leftover homemade tomato puree, was poured over chopped onion, diced zucchini, and corn kernels and simmered for 20 minutes. It was simply seasoned with fresh basil from my garden, a variety called “Floral Spires White,” which like “Fino Verde,” stays relatively small-leafed and is therefore ideal for garnish. Floral Spires, compact like some of the Thai basils, comes in lavender and white, and is more ornamental than most varieties without losing any of its value as an herb. I am growing mine in the ground this year but it makes a great potted plant.

Zucchini, Corn and Tomato Soup with Basil

1 small onion, diced

2 tsp olive oil

6 plum tomatoes, chopped (or 1 c homemade tomato sauce)

2 small-medium zucchini, diced (1/4-inch or slightly larger)

1 ear corn, kernels stripped

3-4 c vegetable broth (corn broth is perfect) or light chicken stock

Salt and pepper

Basil

In a saucepan over medium heat, cook the onion in olive oil until translucent. If using fresh tomatoes, add them to the onions and cook for about 7 minutes until they have softened and collapsed. (If using tomato sauce, add it with the broth.) Add the zucchini and corn and stir well. Add the broth and bring the mixture to a simmer. Cook until the zucchini is soft but not mushy, about 10-15 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, and garnish with fresh basil.

Serves 3-4

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