Vegetable-steamed Fish

Bean Corn Squash

One of the principles that we incorporated into the garden this year was that of Companion Planting. The Wikipedia definition says it well: “Companion planting is the planting of different crops in close physical proximity (in gardening and agriculture), on the theory that they assist each other in nutrient uptake, pest control, pollination, and other factors necessary to increasing crop productivity.” Certain plants help deter pests, others provide nutrients for each other, and mixing up your plant varieties means that the pests have to work that much harder to demolish your entire crop!

COrn, bean, squash plants 4-22-09

Corn, bean, squash plants 4-22-09

One of the better known companion plantings is known as the “Three Sisters” of corn, beans, and squash. The corn is a heavy feeder on the soil, so the beans provide nitrogen at their roots to help replenish the soil. In return, the corn provides a pole for the bean vines to climb up,  and the squash provide shade to retain moisture in the soil, as well as protection from pests with their spiny leaves. In our garden, we didn’t mound the corn and beans above the squash, but I think our  beans would be doing better if we had – the squash grew SO fast that it dwarfed the other plants quickly!

Three Sisters 6-30-09

Corn, Bean, Squash Plants 6-29-09

A few other examples of companion planting would be basil/tomatoes/peppers, mint (in a pot)/broccoli, scallions/lettuce, beets/carrots, marigold/tomatoes. I definitely noticed there were less destructive worms in the lettuce near “smelly” things like garlic and scallions!

I was a little bit stumped last night on how to prepare the squash in a semi-new way, and in a way that would accompany fish. But I found a recipe at Cooking Light for Vegetable-Steamed Orange Roughy that turned out perfectly! I used green beans, onions, and squash, but I think just about any vegetable combination will work. I also made pasta tossed with fresh garlic, parmesan cheese, and olive oil, which rounded things out nicely.

Vegetable-steamed fish

Vegetable-Steamed Orange Roughy (original recipe found here)

~3 yellow squash, sliced into quarters

1 onion, chopped

Large handful of green beans, cut into 1-2″ pieces

2 garlic cloves, minced

~1/3 cup water

Chopped fresh lemon thyme (or thyme + 1 tbsp lemon juice)

~1/2 tsp salt

few grates of fresh pepper

2 (~6 0z) orange roughy fillets

Heat a bit of olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Saute the onions for about 2 minutes, then add the squash, garlic and green beans and saute for another 2 minutes.

Reduce heat to medium. Add the water and about half of the thyme and the salt. Arrange the fish on top, and sprinkle with the remaining thyme and salt and some pepper. Cover with a lid,  reduce the heat a bit, and steam for 12 minutes or until fish flakes easily with a fork.


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Summer Squash Gratin, Green Beans, & Roasted Beets

squash

Last week was truly the week of squash. We ate it every day (sometimes twice a day), and then took some along to Yosemite to eat for dinner while camping. And this week promises to be more of the same. But for now- that’s okay. Because its such a versatile gorgeous vegetable, and I love it!

A Summer Squash Gratin is a fantastic way to get rid of a few pounds of squash. This recipe from 101 Cookbooks is an explosion of flavor and textures that really knocked me off my feet- I think thats all we ate for dinner that night! (I even made it again on Monday, although I used slightly less olive oil in the oregano pesto, and I didn’t have any potatoes this week.)

freshly dug-up potatoes

That’s another thing we harvested last week – potatoes. We pulled up several plants, sifting through the dirt with our fingers for the little baby spuds. I still had some Gruyere left over from the Summer Squash Gratin, so I decided to make a potato gratin. It turned out okay – nothing to post about, as the squash gratin was 10x better!

Green beans lemon balm

We also had green beans ready for harvest, so I steamed them and garnished with chopped lemon balm for a subtle lemony flavor. I have a microwave steamer, so it only takes ~3 minutes to steam the beans and they are ready to eat.

beets

I’ve also been roasting beets every week to use in salads (or to eat on their own). Roasting beets is by far the best way to prepare beets. For awhile I was using the microwave steamer, but while roasting may take a little longer, it is infinitely easier to peel them when they’re done. So I want to include a recipe for roasting beets to encourage everyone to give it a try.

Roasted beets

Roasted Beets

Preheat oven to 400. Scrub beets to get rid of dirt, and snip greens and roots to 1″.  If beets are of similar size, leave them, but if you have some that are smaller, cut the larger beets to be of similar size. Toss with olive oil, salt, and pepper, and spread on a foil-covered cookie sheet. Roast for ~45 minutes – 1 hr (depends on size) until beet is tender when poked with a fork. Take them out of the oven and let them cool, then slip the skins off with your fingers. Ready to eat!

Grilled Vegetables & Focaccia

Before I get to the main topic of this post, I wanted to share this picture I took yesterday. We planted sunflowers in the front garden, and they are starting to open up! There have been a lot of bees around lately (a great, great thing) and I happened to catch this guy feasting on the sunflower pollen.

Sunflower & Bee

Last Thursday, I realized I still had Japanese eggplants, a red pepper, and asparagus in the refrigerator leftover from the farmer’s market. Since I was leaving town for the weekend, I needed to use them up. And as always, there were plenty of yellow squash ready to be picked- plus our first zucchinis!

Vegetables ready to grill

One of my favorite books, Animal Vegetable Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver, has a recipe for a grilled vegetable panini. It was my starting point as an idea, but ultimately what we ended up with was quite different. First I decided to make focaccia because we didn’t have any “proper” bread around (meaning, something not sandwich bread) and the recipe in Simply in Season looked doable. I ended up letting it rise while I was at yoga, so when I got back it was ready to go. I snipped some rosemary to mix into the dough, and studded the top with thin slices of yellow tomato. Next I prepped all of the vegetables for the grill, and doused them in olive oil/salt/pepper.

Basil leaves

While the focaccia was baking, I decided to make a true basil pesto, using a recipe from Simply in Season (can you tell how much I use this cookbook yet?). The basil and parsley plants in the garden have really been getting bushy, so I had plenty to work with! I had also made ricotta cheese earlier in the week (easier than you would think), so I mixed some of the pesto up with it for a simple spread. Here’s a picture of the ricotta draining:

Ricotta draining

I had envisioned piling the grilled vegetables on a piece of focaccia spread with the pesto ricotta. But we took a much less fussy approach by eating the pile of grilled vegetables while tearing off chunks of bread dipped in ricotta. All in all – my favorite kind of dinner!

Grilled vegetables

Grilled Vegetables

Assortment of seasonal vegetables – I used eggplant, bell pepper, asparagus, summer squash. I sliced the eggplant, pepper, and squash in half vertically. The asparagus I left whole (minus snapping off the tough ends)

Olive Oil, Salt, Pepper – make sure all surfaces of vegetables are covered

Grill over medium heat until tender but not mushy – about 3-5 minutes on each side.

Pesto-Ricotta Spread

1 cup fresh basil leaves

1 clove garlic

1/3 cup pine nuts (or walnuts)

3-6 tablespoons Parmesan cheese

1/2 tsp salt to taste

2 sprigs fresh parsley

Finely chop together in a food processor or handheld blender.

1/3 cup olive oil

Add gradually while processing to make a thick paste.

1-2 cups ricotta cheese

Mix pesto into ricotta cheese, one tablespoon at a time, until flavored to your taste. You will probably have pesto leftover – great on sandwiches, pasta, etc.

Serve with focaccia, or other really delicious bread, and the grilled vegetables.

Favorite Lunch Salad

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I want to tell you about my favorite lunch. It isn’t the same thing each time, but is more variations on a theme depending on what I have.  But it always starts the same – mixed salad greens.

I go out to the garden, pick a big handful of fresh lettuce, rinse and dry the leaves, and tear them into a big bowl. I drizzle olive oil and a vinegar (usually red wine, sometime white or champagne), grind some fresh salt and pepper, and toss it all up. Now here is where the variations come in.

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Leftover grilled chicken? Slice it up. Goat or feta cheese? Perfect. Carrots, celery, cucumber, tomato, avocado, berries, beets…? Pick and choose. One of my favorite combinations is cilantro, avocado, blackberries (or mandarin oranges in winter), and goat cheese. Or what about lentils, roasted red peppers, and feta cheese?

IMG_4344

For this particular salad, I pulled up a bunch of golden beets. After a quick steam in the microwave, I peeled and sliced them into the salad, and tossed it all with red wine vinegar, olive oil, salt/pepper. I topped it off with a crumble of goat cheese and mixed it up a bit. And that’s it – my favorite lunch salad!

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Summer Squash Chowder

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As I mentioned a few weeks ago, we had lots of yellow squash coming down the line. It hasn’t been too overwhelming – but I could probably be picking them twice as often as I do! The squash get to ~4 inches, and if they aren’t picked they start to go rotten on the plant, starting from the end with the blossom. I can’t quite figure out the problem – the squash taste great, they’re just slightly smaller than what you’d see at a market. This afternoon I saw a few bees buzzing around the blossoms, and I got to witness pollination – the bee went to the male blossom first, and then made his way over to a female blossom. Amazing.

Squash blossom with bee

The magazine Cooking Light has been a favorite of mine in years past. Their website was the first I would go to in search of new recipes, and while I do still use them, it is now one of many that influences what I prepare. In the last few months I’ve been going through old issues, ripping out favorite recipes and articles, and compiling them into a binder (complete with sheet protectors. Organized, I know!). One of my favorite menus was from the July 2005 issue. I have made the Roasted Corn, Poblano and Cheddar Pizza many times (I may well feature it later this summer, since I’ve changed it a bit), and right next to it was a recipe for Summer Squash Chowder. Perfect for this time of year!

prep squash

Its not too fussy on the prep, comes together quickly, and is a great way to use up an abundance of squash. The original recipe calls for the addition of milk at the end (which could easily be soymilk for those of you who can’t have milk), but I decided to step it up a little by infusing the milk with fresh herbs first – marjoram, basil, and oregano. This gave the soup really nice herbal undertones that rounded things out nicely. I’m planning on serving this soup for dinner tonight along with Stuffed Baked Potatoes, but fresh bread and salad would be great accompaniments as well.

squash chowder

Summer Squash Chowder, original recipe from Cooking Light

5 1/2 – 6 cups diced yellow squash (about 1 1/2 – 2 pounds)

1-2 cups fresh corn kernels (whatever 2 ears yields for you)

1 cup chopped yellow or red bell pepper

1/2 cup chopped onion

16 oz vegetable broth

1 3/4 cups milk

3/4 tsp salt

1/8 tsp white or black pepper

handful of fresh herbs – basil, oregano, marjoram

Olive oil

Combine squash, corn, pepper, onion, and broth in a large pot; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 20 minutes. Let it cool for a few minutes, and then either puree with a handheld immersion blender, or puree in batches in a regular blender.

While the squash is simmering, chop the herbs and combine them with the milk in a small saucepan. Heat over medium until the milk is hot, turn off heat, and continue to steep for 10 minutes. Strain the milk mixture into the pureed squash mixture; discard herbs. Add salt and pepper to taste. Cook over low heat until thoroughly heated, stirring occasionally. If you like, serve the soup garnished with fresh herbs and a small drizzle of olive oil. (Or put some olive oil on a plate, sprinkle with the herbs and some salt, and dip your bread in that!)