Wednesday, August 25, 2010

summer fest: tomato zucchini gratin

There is something enchanting about a hot tomato.

The way it puckers slightly, but holds onto its essential shape, and you just know it’s full of hot, sweet juice, ready to make you believe that maybe, just maybe, summer could last all year long.

Look at these globes of summer.

Yes, they are perfect eaten neat – I mean twisted off, dusted on your shirt and popped in your mouth – but they’re somehow even more perfect bubbling away in a gratin.

I first encountered a tomato and zucchini gratin when I was visiting relatives in Hamburg, Germany. At the time, I didn’t eat red meat. This was – and is – a hard concept for most Germans to understand, and I think my mother’s cousin Christina searched high and low for what to cook for me.

This was my favourite. She tossed ripe tomatoes and zucchini with a creamy sauce and covered it with cheese, baked it in the oven . . .

This was my first introduction to the gratin: a dish of vegetables with herbs and cream and cheese that bakes and bubbles into a vegetable dance party. 

Christina served the gratin over rice that had been tossed with peas. (I don’t know if this is a particularly German thing to do or just a tradition in my mother’s family, but I would recommend it for all kinds of dishes. The peas give the rice a bit of pop. And who can resist a bit of pop in their food?)

Today, I wasn’t sure exactly what Christina put in her sauce, so I let my herb garden inspire me. Who knew that summer savory is a good friend of the tomato and the zucchini? Now I do.

I also used shallots and butter (hard to go wrong) and topped it with a scattering of breadcrumbs and a decidedly generous toss of cheese. You can play with herbs and cheese – as long as you toss the tomatoes and zucchini with something creamy and flavourful and top it with lots of cheese, I think you’ll be pretty happy.

This gratin is very juicy when it comes out of the oven, all the better for seeping into the rice. However, if you like a thicker sauce, mix 1 or 2 tsp. of cornstarch with 1 tbsp. cold water. Stir that into your almost boiling cream.

A note to my vegetable sponsors:
Thank you to my dad and my friends Robert and Janet in Courtenay for providing the home-grown tomatoes and yellow zucchini. Without you, this dish wouldn’t have been possible.

This post is part of Summer Fest 2010, which is a community food blogging event to write about (and eat!) seasonal produce. Today's Summer Fest theme is the lovely tomato.

My recipe for tomato zucchini gratin is below. If you'd like to see other food bloggers' delicious ideas about tomatoes, check out:

A Way to Garden: More than one way to ripen a tomato
Pinch My Salt: What to do with slow-roasted tomatoes 
Gilded Fork: All kinds of tomato recipes
The Sister Project: Harvest home
Food2: What's the deal with heirlooms?
The FN Dish: Tyler's ultimate tomato salads
Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef: Gluten-Free Tomato Tart
Just a Taste: Tomato Jam
From the Ground Up: Roasted Green Salsa
Divina Cucina: Tomatoes, the Italian way
Tigress in a Pickle: Over 50 ways to preserve tomatoes in jars
San Diego Foodstuff: Chunky Gazpacho
Simmer Till Done: Cherry Tomato and Maytag Blue Beignets
Healthy Eats: Top 10 things to do with tomatoes
Food Network UK: The seven deadly tomato sins
White on Rice Couple: Sun dried tomatoes in the sun
The Cooking Channel: Easy Tomato Galette
The Wright Recipes: Savory Tomato Crumble

If you'd like to join the festival, leave your comment or recipe about tomatoes on my blog and the others' blogs. The idea is to get everyone talking about what's ripe right now and how we can eat it.

tomato zucchini gratin
A note for the gluten-free among us:
I have not yet encountered a good pre-made gluten-free breadcrumb. I would recommend pulsing a piece of gluten-free bread in a food processor to make your own.

serves 4

2 shallots, minced
2 tbsp. butter
1 c. whipping cream
1 – 2 tsp. fresh summer savory, minced
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
3 – 4 c. zucchini, sliced into 1/4 inch (1/2 cm) quarters
3 – 4 c. tomato, cut into wedges
1/4 c. breadcrumbs
1 c. German Butter cheese, grated
1 c. Gruyère cheese, grated

Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter a 10-cup casserole dish.

Sauté shallots in butter over low heat until the shallots start to become translucent, but not browned, about 5 minutes.

Add the cream, summer savory, salt and pepper. Bring to almost boiling. Remove from heat just before boiling, so you don’t burn the cream. (If you want to add cornstarch, now is the time.)

Toss the zucchini with one third of the cream. Pour into the prepared casserole dish. Cover with tomatoes. Spoon cream over top. Scatter breadcrumbs over. Sprinkle cheese on top.

Bake uncovered for 30 – 35 minutes. If your cheese is not browning at the end, turn the oven up to 425 degrees Fahrenheit and cook for 3 or 4 more minutes.

Remove from oven and let sit for 10 minutes.

Serve over rice that has been tossed with peas.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

happy news from

I can hardly believe it . . . but I'm a winner on!

I entered this week's Kitchen Challenge with my peach crisp post, and I'm one of four category winners. Yippee!

If you'd like to check out the Kitchen Challenge and other lip-smacking peach recipes, go to Salon.

I'll be back soon with a recipe for tomato zucchini gratin . . .

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

summer fest: peach crisp

When I was a kid, growing up in Kelowna on a city lot with a rather astounding number of fruit trees, early August meant peaches.

My mom would draft me to help peel them for canning. Those memories have a distinct feel of slippery peaches shooting out my hands and little bits of fuzz everywhere.

She made a beautiful jar of canned peaches, but what I really looked forward to was peach crisp. Bubbling out of the oven with oats and brown sugar and butter, with a scoop of cold vanilla ice cream on top, it was the perfect August dessert.

We were back in the Okanagan for a bit of summer vacation last week, and picked up these beauties. (I also couldn’t resist cherries, apricots and plums. The Okanagan is a delicious valley.)

Sure enough, after a few days and a car and ferry ride home, the peaches were ripe and ready for crisp.

This is my mom’s recipe. My husband and I have different opinions about how much we like the ground cloves in it. If you’re not a clove fan, leave them out. But if you are, I think you will agree they add another layer of spicy goodness to the crisp.

Can you see the yummy cloves?

You can adapt this crisp recipe for pretty much any fruit: rhubarb, apple, pear, plum, whatever’s ripe in your neck of the woods. You can also play around with different proportions of fruit to crumble if you like more fruit or more crumble. (I’m a more crumble person, myself.)

I like the balance of cold ice cream on hot crisp, but I didn’t attempt to take a photo of that, as I expected it would then look like peach crisp ice cream stew.

This post is part of Summer Fest 2010, which is a community food blogging event to write about (and eat!) seasonal produce. Today's Summer Fest theme is -- you guessed it -- stone fruit.

My family recipe for peach crisp is below. If you'd like to see other food bloggers' delicious ideas about stone fruit, check out:

The Wright Recipes: Ginger and Vanilla Poached Peaches
Sweetnicks: Blueberry Peach Smoothie
White on Rice Couple: Poached Pluots in Reisling
San Diego Foodstuff: Grilled Peach Parfait and Coconut Peach Gazpacho
Eating from the Ground Up: Stone Fruit Slump
Just a Taste: Peaches and Cream Cupcakes
A Way to Garden: Clafoutis Batter from Michel Roux
Food Network UK: How to Poach a Peach
Tigress in a Jam: Nectarine Preserves with Summer Savory and White Pepper
Over a Tuscan Stove: Italian Amaretti Apricots
Tea & Cookies: Making Peach Jam
Gluten-Free Girl and the Chef: Gluten-Free Nectarine Blueberry Buckle

And if you'd like to join the festival, leave your comment or recipe about stone fruit on my blog and the others' blogs. The idea is to get everyone talking about what's ripe right now and how we can eat it.

A note for gluten-free people:
This recipe will only work for you if you can tolerate oats. Make sure you find oats that were grown in an uncontaminated field and processed in an uncontaminated factory. I like oats from Cream Hill Estates.

peach crisp

makes 4 to 6 bowls

6 medium peaches, peeled and sliced
1/8 tsp. ground cloves
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
2 tsp. lemon juice
2/3 c. brown sugar
2/3 c. rolled oats
1/3 c. wheat flour
            Or gluten-free flours:
            2 tbsp. sweet white sorghum flour
1 tbsp. sweet rice flour
2 tbsp. tapioca starch
1/2 tsp. xanthan gum or guar gum
1/8 tsp. salt
6 tbsp. butter
1/4 c. walnuts, chopped (optional)
vanilla ice cream for serving (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter a 6-cup casserole dish.

Mix the peaches with the cloves, cinnamon, lemon juice and half of the brown sugar. Pour into the prepared casserole dish.

Blend the remaining brown sugar, oats, flour and salt together. Cut in the butter with a pastry blender until the mixture has a crumbly consistency. Add the nuts and use your fingers to work them in. Sprinkle the crumbles relatively evenly over the fruit.

Bake 45 minutes, or until the peaches are soft and the crumble topping is nicely browned.

Serve hot with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

rosemary corn butter

Some people in Ottawa are very smart. (As they should be. It is the seat of power for the whole country, after all.)

In this case, I’m talking about smart farmers. They’ve scattered produce carts throughout the city, so that whenever you like in August, you can get farm-fresh corn – right after work, right before dinner, right by your apartment or your house.

These corn carts led to the Summer of Corn 2008 in our household.

The Summer of Corn 2008 involved eating corn pretty much every evening and meeting my new favourite relish: corn relish.

We’ve tried to replicate the Summer of Corn on Vancouver Island and are fairly successful – but we have to drive up the peninsula and out to the farm to get it now. Not quite as handy, but we’re glad we still have access to tasty, local corn.

We officially began the Summer of Corn 2010 this afternoon, as we made our way out to Silver Rill Farm and joined the hordes of city folk rummaging through wooden bins to find the best cobs.

We kept thinking back to the first Summer of Corn with fond memories, and then I remembered: rosemary corn butter.

This recipe was born out of necessity on a late August day. We had been invited to a potluck dinner, but it was far too hot to stay inside and cook. What to bring?

Since it was the Summer of Corn 2008, you may not be surprised with what we came up with.

I wanted to dress the corn up a bit and we had rosemary growing in our miniscule deck garden . . . 

I minced a bit of rosemary, grated some parmesan, and pushed it into some butter.

Our potluck dish was as well received as anything I might have spent two steamy hours toiling over a hot stove to achieve.

For the Summer of Corn 2010, this corn is a good consolation prize. We may not have handy-dandy corn carts all over the city, but we do have this easy, dressy butter. The rosemary and parmesan stud the butter with a perfect salty foil for sweet, crunchy corn. It only takes about 5 minutes to make – just while your corn is coming to a boil.

If you are feeling fancy, you could grind some sea salt and peppercorns into the butter, too – but I don’t think that’s strictly necessary.

rosemary corn butter

enough to butter about 4 cobs

1 tsp. rosemary (about 1 sprig), minced
1/3 c. parmesan, grated
1/4 c. butter
sea salt and peppercorns, ground to taste (optional)

Use the back of a strong spoon to push the rosemary and parmesan into the butter. Mix well.

Serve in a little bowl. Garnish with another sprig of rosemary, if you like.

Spread butter lavishly on each cob.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

hop & go fetch it: new restaurants!

Have you meandered over to the hop & go fetch it section yet? It's full of my favourite places to eat in Canada, the U.S.A. and Europe.

I've been lucky enough to try quite a few new restaurants in the last little while. Hop on over to hop & go fetch it for new recommendations for Salt Spring Island, Vancouver Island and Vancouver.

Bon Appétit!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

rote grütze on ice cream

Rote grütze has been on my mind for the last seven summers.

My relatives served it to me in Hamburg when I was visiting, and I remember being surprised by the  tart red berries and cataloguing it in my mind as yet another delicious German dessert.

They served it – thick and saucy and full of berries – with a light vanilla sauce.

That is the traditional way to eat rote grütze and I heartily recommend it.

However, I happen to have vanilla ice cream on hand . . . and that led to the revelation that I could put rote grütze on top of ice cream instead of sauce on top of rote grütze.

Rote grütze literally means red groats. Groats, I have learned from extensive research, are any hulled cereal grain. Here, they refer to plump and ripe summertime berries.

You can gather up whatever red (or reddish) berries you like – cherries, raspberries, loganberries, blackberries, strawberries, blueberries, gooseberries – whatever is ripe.

But you must use red currants. Their crunchy seeds and tart flavour lift rote grütze well off the North American palate and transport it over to Deutschland.

Look at these currants. They are so excited to join the rote grütze that they’re actually dancing!

I hear you can also make weisse grütze (white groats) and grüne grütze (green groats), so I also bought some white currants to freeze and use later . . . Once I think of some good white and green fruit to add.

Here is my recipe for rote grütze. Substitute any berries you like for the cherries, raspberries and blueberries, but keep the currants. (Have I made myself clear on the currant issue?) I also used rum because rum and red berries are delicious. (Hallo, rumtopf!)

If you’d like to make a more traditional, thicker pudding instead of a sauce, add one or two extra tablespoons of cornstarch (and water to dissolve it).

I tried to take a good close-up for you, but as you can see, the ice cream could hardly wait to eat it up.


rote grütze on ice cream

1 c. red currants
1 c. raspberries
1 c. cherries, pitted and roughly chopped
1 c. blueberries
1/4 c. honey
2 tbsp. lemon juice (one small lemon)
2 tbsp. cornstarch
1 tsp. vanilla
2 tbsp. rum
vanilla ice cream

Put the berries, honey, lemon juice and 1/4 c. water in a medium, heavy-bottomed pot. Set it over medium-low heat and bring it to a boil, stirring often.

Simmer for 5 to 10 minutes, stirring often, until the berries get juicy and soft. (If you’re feeling impatient at this point, you can spend your time bursting a few blueberries on the side of the pot.)

While the berries are cooking, use a small bowl to mix the cornstarch with 1/4 c. cold water. Mix well.

Once the berries are ready, stir in the cornstarch mixture. Keep stirring and simmer for another minute or two, until it has thickened.

Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla and rum.

Serve immediately over vanilla ice cream or refrigerate until you’re ready for dessert. You can heat it up again at that point if you like, but it’s also lovely cold.