Figs are in season now and they are sweet reminders that fall is just around the corner. Figs were the first fruit cultivated by ancient civilizations. They were used for sweeteners before sugar cane was discovered and are still used in Northern Africa and the Middle East to sweeten confections and savory dishes. Its been proposed that Eve tempted Adam not with an apple but with a fig.
The explorers brought figs to the new world in 1520. Black California Mission figs and a white variety make excellent preserves. They are dripping with syrup when ripe and add elegant flavor to meats, make delightful confections such as clafoutis and cookies and wonderfully smooth butter like apple butter. Walnuts and fresh figs go well together as stuffing for chicken breasts. Figs with Gorgonzola cheese and fresh tomatoes, or with fresh mozzarella make great bruschetta. Figs wrapped in prosciutto with goats cheese and arugula make perfect hors d’oeuvres. Fresh or dried, figs make great out-of-hand snacks and are good for you.
This salad will satisfy your hunger pangs for something sweet, meaty and crunchy. Dress it with your favorite vinaigrette or just a little extra virgin olive oil, a squeeze of lemon, fresh ground black pepper and sea salt. Serve with crusty French bread and a glass of wine for a light dinner.
1 package of baby spring lettuce greens
1 roasted chicken breast, chilled and sliced
1/2 ripe avocado, sliced
6 cherry tomatoes, halved
3 fresh button mushrooms, sliced thin
6 fresh white figs, halved or quartered
2 scallions sliced thin
6 bocconcini (mini mozzarella cheese balls)
vinaigrette of choice
sea salt and fresh ground black pepper
Arrange everything on top of lettuce greens, drizzle with vinaigrette, season and enjoy.
“From vine to brine in less than 12 hours” is the rule of thumb for home pickling. This brine is so simple to make and can be made in large volumes so you can pickle as you pick those young tender beans, baby cukes and okra. Add a slice of garlic, a tiny dried chile, and dill weed to the jar for real zing.
According to the Pickle History Timeline ( http://www.nyfoodmuseum.org/_ptime.htm) pickling is one of the oldest food preservation methods known to man. In the fifteenth century A.D.: ”Before Amerigo Vespucci set out to explore the New World, he was a pickle peddler in Seville, Spain. Since food spoilage and the lack of healthy meals were such concerns on long voyages, he loaded up barrels of pickled vegetables onto explorer ships. Hundreds of sailors were spared the ravages of scurvy because of Vespucci’s understanding of the nutritional benefits of pickles.” It’s interesting to note that the cucumber came from India in 2030 B.C. and dill weed was introduced to Western Europe from Sumatra in 900 A.D. Nearly 50% of all cucumbers grown in the United States are pickled. And while a pickle is a cucumber, any vegetable or fruit can be pickled. Generally pickles are a good source of Vitamin C, Vitamin A, Calcium and Iron.
Pickled green beans are super in Bloody Mary’s and Salad Niçoise. Add them to a relish tray with other pickles and olives or toss them in a salad with purple potatoes and boiled eggs. You’ll find a lot ways to utilize pickles from your garden. They also make a terrific gift. Nothing is more appreciated than a basket of homemade preserves, condiments and pickles.
This recipe works for cucumbers and okra too. Add yellow mustard seeds instead of chile peppers. You can substitute dill seeds if fresh dill weed is not available. Just double or triple the amount of vinegar, water and salt to make a big batch of brine ready to use.
Ingredients for 3 pints:
2-1/2 pounds freshly picked green beans (Haricot Verts recommended), washed and vine-end trimmed
2 cups distilled white vinegar
2 cups water
1/4 cup canning salt (Kosher salt or sea salt)
3 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced in half
1 bunch dill weed (seed heads included) divided into 3
3 tiny red chile peppers or 1/4 tsp of red pepper flakes in each jar
Sterilize 3 pint jars with rings and lids. Keep warm. Trim green beans to 1/2 inch shorter than the jar.
Drop a chile and a garlic (2 halves) into each jar. Arrange beans in jar with cut ends toward the top, packing beans in fairly tight so they won’t float up to the lid.
Tuck dill weed into the center of the beans.
In a stainless steel pot, combine vinegar, water and salt. Bring to a boil and stir until salt is dissolved
Pour boiling brine over beans up to 1/4-inch from top of jar. Wipe the lip of the jar and seal with lid and ring.
Let rest in a draft-free area. Beans will ferment in the refrigerator in about 2 weeks.
For longer storage, place hot jars into a boiling water bath with 1 inch of water covering the tops. Simmer for 10 minutes. Remove to a draft-free area and once cooled check that lids have properly sealed. If the lids do not spring back when pressed they are sealed. Refrigerate any jars that have not sealed.
Store sealed jars in cool, dark pantry for 1 year or longer.
Tomatoes are abundant now and inexpensive especially if purchased in quantity. Unlike hot-house tomatoes that the supermarkets carry in the winter, fresh summer tomatoes are full of flavor that you can smell. They’re a good source of vitamins A and C, and lycopene, a powerful antioxidant. Cooked tomatoes actually have more antioxidants than fresh tomatoes, the exact opposite of other antioxidant rich foods which lose their potency when cooked. Researchers believe a person who drinks one glass of tomato juice everyday will live a very long healthy life.
Tomato pulp with milk powder makes a wonderful facial mask that will actually help heal acne and defoliate skin. Idea of Beauty claims vitamin C and potassium found in tomatoes help heal the skin. We know the vitamins and minerals in tomatoes are internally good for our bodies so if you’d rather absorb those nutrients in a pampered facial mask than eat them, so be it. Certainly anything good to eat will not harm your skin unless you’re allergic to it.
There are dozens of varieties of tomatoes. Beef steak tomatoes are good for salads, sandwiches, salsas, and stuffed with chicken salad, tuna salad, herbed cottage cheese, tabbouleh or couscous.
Roma tomatoes are more fleshy and make excellent Italian sauces, canned whole tomatoes, or dried tomatoes. Even the sauce can be dehydrated for tomato paste.
Cherry tomatoes and salad tomatoes on the vine are wonderful roasted and preserved with olive oil for antipasto, meze plates, and everything in between.
There has got to be at least one new dish created everyday that uses tomatoes. Try a few of the recipes given here. Add your own herbs and spices, make them your own. And while tomatoes are at their peak, preserve some for winter.
Homemade V-8 Juice:
2 lb tomatoes, washed, cored, and chopped
1 stalk of celery, washed and chopped with leaves
1 large carrot, peeled and chopped
1 small red beet, peeled and chopped
1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
1 medium red bell pepper, washed, seeded and chopped
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tsp of Old Bay Spice
1 Tbsp horseradish
In a stainless steel pan, cook vegetables about 20 minutes or until they are tender.
Puree in a food processor.
Add sea salt and sugar to taste. Chill.
Follow the method for Canned Tomato Juice for larger quantities.
Here are a few ways to preserve them:
Frozen Tomatoes: Wash and core, place in freezer bags whole and freeze. They thaw out in a flash and are excellent in bolognese sauce and stews or soups.
Canned Tomato Juice: Wash, core, quarter and cook (without added water) over medium heat in a stainless steel pan just until tender and juicy. Run through a food mill or press through a fine mesh sieve (chinoise) to remove skins and seeds. Add salt to taste and 1/2 tsp of citric acid to sterilized jars. Pour tomato juice into hot jars up to 1/2 inch from the rims, seal and process in a pressure cooker for 35 minutes. (see video below)
Canned Whole or Diced Tomatoes: Wash and core tomatoes, slice an X into bottom of each tomato, dip into boiling water for 2 minutes then remove the skins. Pack whole tomatoes or diced tomatoes into sterilized jars with salt to taste and 1/2 tsp citric acid. Pour hot tomato juice into jar up to 1/2 inch from rim of jar, seal, and process in pressure cooker for 35 minutes.
Dried Tomatoes: Use Roma or cherry tomatoes. Wash and slice in half. Place on trays in an electric dehydrator and dry per manufacturer’s instructions. Or, place on racks over cookie sheets and dry in a 250° F. oven, turning ocassionally, until tomatoes are leathery. Place dried tomatoes in sterile jars and store in a cool, dark pantry. Or, add basil leaves, garlic, salt, and pour in hot olive oil up to 1/2 inch from the rims. Seal immediately and place in a cool, dark pantry for 1 week before using. Refrigerate, after opening, up to 6 weeks.
Tomato Paste: Use Roma or beef stake tomatoes. Dry the tomatoes in a dehydrator until they are crisp (see video below), grind to a powder in a food processor or coffee mill and reconstitute with just enough water to make a paste. To make a sauce, add a bit more water to the paste along with herbs, spices (salt, pepper, sugar, cinnamon, cloves etc.), onions, garlic, or mushrooms.
Tomato Caper Tapenade: 3/4 cup of dried tomatoes in oil, 1/4 cup drained capers, 2 cloves garlic, 1 tsp lemon zest, 1 Tbsp lemon juice, 1 Tbsp fresh thyme leaves. Process all ingredients until smooth. Spoon into an 8 oz hot-sterilized- jar, top with 1/4 cup hot olive oil, seal immediately. Refrigerate, after opening, up to 6 weeks.
Drying tomatoes in the dessert sun is super economical and far more comfortable than turning on the oven in the kitchen when it’s 108° F. outside. The process is simple and safe…the results are as good as store-bought and you know who, in what, and where they came from. Sun-dried fruits and vegetables are intensely flavorful and healthy so long as they’re not treated with chemical preservatives. The only thing drying does is evaporate the water content…the vitamins and flavors are still there and undiluted.
Cherry tomatoes are perfect for drying in the sun. A solar-dehydrator works perfectly and can be made with a box painted black and piece of window glass to cover the top. Cut a 2-inch hole in the bottom of the box and the top of one side. Cover holes with mesh or screen to keep the insects out. This will allow air to flow in and out. Place on a table or chair in the yard where direct sun will hit it throughout the day.
When the tomatoes are dry but still rubbery they’re ready to dress and preserve in oil. You can add whatever herbs you’re fond of and olive oil or a combination of canola oil and olive oil. If you add salt, dissolve it in a little lemon juice first or crush it with cloves of garlic before adding to the jar.
For best storage, pack in 8 oz. sterilized jars, pour hot oil up 1/2-inch from rim and immediately seal. Store in a cool dry pantry for 1 week before using. Refrigerate when opened and use within 6 weeks. Bring to room temperature before using. Use sun-dried tomatoes in salads, soups, sandwiches, hors d’eouvres and antipasto.
12 oz fresh ripe cherry tomatoes
6 or 7 dried basil leaves
1/4 tsp sea salt in 1 tsp lemon juice
1 clove of garlic bruised
1/4 tsp dried pepper flakes
1/3 cup of olive oil
Wash tomatoes and slice in half. Place on a icing screen or cake rack. Make sure air can flow under the rack.
Cover tomatoes with a single layer of cheesecloth and place in direct sunlight for the day.
If tomatoes are not dry and rubbery by night-fall, remove tomatoes to indoors overnight.
Turn each tomato half over and place back in the sun the following day.
Pack dried, rubbery tomatoes in a sterile 8 oz. jar. Add crushed garlic, salt, basil and pepper flakes.
Heat oil to hot but not smoking and pour into jar up to 1/2 inch from top rim. With a skewer or knife move the contents around a bit to release any air bubbles. Wipe the rim and seal immediately.
Running late today, no time to shop, driving home and thinking… dinner at 7:00…what do I have that’s fast and delicious. Still have mixed seafood, 1 chicken breast, kielbasa, rice, canned tomatoes…hmmm…paella. I have garlic, onions, saffron, cilantro, wine, stock. Yes, paella it is…on the stove top…too hot to turn on the oven! I made lavender lemonade Monday. Add a little bubbly (or a lot of bubbly) to that and make a salad. Enough!!! Voila, romantic dinner for 2. You’ve got to give this a try.
4 inches of kielbasa sausage, sliced into 1/2 inch rounds
1/2 chicken breast, cut into 8 pieces
2 Tbsp chopped onion
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup chopped green bell pepper
1/4 cup white wine
pinch of saffron (or 1/2 tsp each turmeric and paprika)