Little Green Tomatoes

Tiny Seeds of Goodness


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Pasta Inspiration

I was inspired yesterday.  Inspired to prepare and consume wholesome, simple, delicious food! After watching the first episode of Samin Nosrat’s Netflix series, Salt Fat Acid Heat , I rummaged through my frig and pantry to see if I had the necessary ingredients for one of my favorite pasta dishes.

Although not the incredible aged Parmigiano-Reggiano from Italy that Samin featured on her show, I had shredded Parmesan in a plastic pouch from the grocery store.  High class all the way, baby!! Although not fresh handmade pasta – also featured on the show, I had a box of average, run of the mill fettuccine in my pantry. I did have a nice fresh bottle of Italian Carapelli Oro Verde EVOO. And a can of California ripe olives. The stars were aligned!  The pasta prep could begin!

I have been making this dish for eons.  Well, since the early ‘90s actually, which, most days, seems like eons ago.  I used to follow the recipe to a T. Now I am lazy and tend to avoid / combine a couple of the steps.  Main reason – I absolutely abhor peeling and seeding tomatoes, and will do just about anything to avoid that task.  Besides, I like the skins and the seeds – they add flavor and texture.  So, for correctness sake, I’ve included the recipe in its original form.  If you choose to make the dish, you can make the call on how you want to handle the tomatoes.  I do not peel nor seed my tomatoes, I simple cut them into large chunks and cook them along with the peppers and garlic.  I will tell you that I have used fresh heirloom tomatoes, cherry/grape tomatoes, even canned tomatoes, and have been pleased with each.  Yesterday I used a package of Wild Wonders Gourmet Medley , and I love the variety of colors and flavors they brought to the dish.

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Pasta with Broccoli and Tomatoes

  • 1 lb fresh broccoli
  • Salt, to taste
  • 2 large ripe tomatoes
  • 1 large sweet red paper, cut into chunks
  • ½ lb spaghetti, fettuccini, or penne pasta
  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 can ripe olives, pitted and sliced
  • ½ cup coarsely chopped Italian parsley
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Freshly grated Romano or Parmesan cheese

Cut broccoli into small florets with about an inch of stem. Peel the remaining stems and dice into small pieces.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil.  Add salt and submerge tomatoes for about 10-20 seconds. Remove. Peel and seed tomatoes; cut in to large pieces.

Add broccoli to boiling water and cook 3-4 minutes, until just tender.  Remove and plunge into a bowl of ice water to stop cooking and to retain the bright green color.  Drain and set aside.  (Note: in my current lazy state, I eliminate this step and simply drop the broccoli in to cook with the pasta about 5 minutes before the pasta will be al dente).

Add a few drops of olive oil to the boiling water, drop in the pasta, and stir.

While pasta is cooking, warm olive oil in a skillet with garlic and red pepper flakes.  When hot, add tomatoes and sweet red pepper chunks.  Cook for several minutes over low to medium heat.

When pasta is just about done, return the broccoli to the water to warm, then pour pasta and broccoli into a colander.  Transfer to a large warm serving bowl. Add the tomato mixture, black olives, parsley, black pepper and toss.

Serve with plenty of freshly grated Romano or Parmesan cheese and crusty Italian bread.

Generously serves 2 to 3 hungry folks. Cibo delizioso!!


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October Beans (in September)

My Grandma called them “Shellie Beans”. The farm stand at Smith Farms calls them “October Beans”.  The North Carolina Folklife Institute says that these beans, also called “fall beans” or “speckled beans”, are an assortment of old heirloom shell beans that ripen between the end of summer and first frost.  Whatever you choose to call them, these are some Beautiful Beans!

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While the Great Depression of the 1930’s was a time of hardship and suffering, my mother would tell me of how blessed her family was at that time. She was continually thankful that she grew up in a farm family.  Although times were tough and they had little else, they had their land, their home, and they were able to grow and produce their own food. She had fond memories of the simple meals that sustained her large family during those lean years.  She continued to prepare her favorites, even in times of plenty, throughout her adult life.

One of those beloved stand-by meals was soup beans and cornbread. I vividly recall coming home to the mouth-watering aroma of a pot of soup beans simmering on the stove and cornbread, fresh baked, and straight out of the oven.

Over the years, I’ve tinkered around with Mom’s basic recipe, changing it up a little bit, adding some ingredients.  Mostly I eyeball and adjust quantities to taste, but this time I recorded my measurements.  So, here’s my version.

Delicious! Simple! Beautiful Beans! 

  • 4 cups beans, removed from pods, rinsed in cold water & drained
  • 6 cups cold water
  • 4 slices thick cut uncured bacon
  • 1 teaspoon bacon drippings
  • 1 large Vidalia onion, coarsely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon Better Than Bouillon chicken soup base
  • ¼ cup organic raw sugar
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • ½ cup to 1 cup ketchup, depending on your taste

Place rinsed and drained beans in a large soup pot with 6 cups cold water.  Bring to a full boil.  Reduce heat to medium, boil for about 5 minutes, mostly covered (leave lid a bit askew to prevent boiling over).

Cut the bacon into chunks and fry until crisp.  Remove from pan and drain, reserving 1 teaspoon of the bacon drippings.

To the pot of boiling beans, add the bacon, bacon drippings, onion, garlic, chicken soup base, sugar, Worcestershire sauce, and ½ cup ketchup.  Stir well, and return to a full boil.  Once boiling, reduce heat to low, and cook, covered, until beans are to desired tenderness – about 2 hours.

You may need to add a cup or two of additional water as the soup cooks, depending on the amount of broth you prefer.  If you add additional water, you can add additional ketchup as well.

Serve steaming hot with fresh baked cornbread or sweet corn tomalito (sweet cornbread pudding).

Any kind of dried beans can be used in this dish as well.  Great Northerns, Pintos, Field Peas – all are very good.  If you’re using dried beans, you will need to rinse, sort, and soak overnight, according to the instructions on the bag, prior to preparing this recipe.  Or, you can use the Quick Soak method if you’re short on time.

Makes 4 – 6 servings.

Sweet Corn Tomalito 

  • 5 tablespoons salted butter, softened
  • ¼ cup masa harina
  • ½ cup organic raw sugar
  • 2 cups whole kernel corn – fresh, frozen (thawed), or canned
  • ¾ cup milk
  • ½ cup cornmeal
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon sea salt

Fill bottom pan of a double boiler with water and bring to a boil.  If you don’t have a double boiler, you can use a large soup pot or Dutch oven and a glass baking dish to accomplish the same thing.  See my post on The Great Cobbler Experiment for more information.

In a medium mixing bowl, combine the softened butter, masa harina, and sugar until light and fluffy.  In a food processer or a blender, blend 1 cup of the corn with the milk and cornmeal until smooth. Add to the masa mixture and stir. Add the remaining cup of corn, baking powder, and sea salt.  Combine well and stir until batter is smooth.

Pour batter into top pan of double boiler.  Cover tightly, either with the double boiler lid, or aluminum foil.  Lower heat and steam over simmering water for about 50 to 60 minutes, or until firm. Check water occasionally and add more if needed, to prevent bottom pan from boiling dry.

Serve warm, on a warmed plate or small side dish, by the scoopful.  A small dollop of sour cream on top is tasty as well!

Makes 6 – 8 servings.

 


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The Great Cobbler Experiment

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So, it is cobbler season, and my oven is currently not functional! Sadness. It over heated some time back and I haven’t moved forward with getting a repair service to come and look at it. My “spidey senses”, intuition, or just plain procrastination have been telling me “wait a little while – don’t get in a rush to fix it”. So I haven’t. But if nothing else has malfunctioned with the range by October – Apple Crisp and Pumpkin Crunch season – you can bet I will be calling the repair guy!

With our collection of about every other piece of cooking equipment known to man (and woman), we have not been going hungry, trust me. About the only thing I haven’t been able to make so far is home-made pizzas.  The “complaint department” has officially stopped taking any further complaints on that issue.

Being that I am frugal, a “DIY-er”, and always aspiring to be more self-sufficient, I decided that there has to be more than one way to make the fruit cobblers I love.  Thus, the decision to experiment was made.  I should add that I inherited all of the above from parents who grew up during the Great Depression in Midwest farm country. Grandparents who always grew, prepared, and shared all sorts of deliciousness may have also contributed to a few of my inherited traits.

First experiment: Peach cobbler.  Cooked on very low heat, stovetop, in heavy enameled cast iron dutch oven. As feared, the cobbler dough on the bottom scorched. The un-burned upper layers were scooped out, consumed, and very tasty.  More ooey & gooey than a baked cobbler, but I happen to like ooey & gooey.

Second experiment: Peach cobbler.  Steamed in DIY double boiler.  As luck would have it, my Pyrex pie plate nestled perfectly on to the rim of my stainless steel soup pot.  And the lid for the soup pot fit perfectly atop the pie plate! Cobbler was steamed for approximately 1 hr. & 15 min. over gently boiling water.  The beginning level of the boiling water was just below the bottom of the pie plate.

Note to self – use less butter than recipe calls out for a baked cobbler! No burning experienced with this method, and my taste tests received an “mmmmm…..yummy” rating. Again, more ooey & gooey than a baked cobbler. Maybe somewhat more of a consistency of an old-fashioned fruit pudding? I packed this experiment up and sent it along to the office with my husband.  His co-workers gave it a thumbs up and the pie plate came back scraped clean.

Third experiment: Blueberry cobbler. Steamed in same DIY double boiler.  Reduced butter by ½ the amount called out in recipe.  It’s ooey and it’s gooey – and I’m not sharing this one!!

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Here is my favorite cobbler recipe. So simple and so delicious! I use an air-bake cake pan when I bake in the oven, to prevent any scorching of the bottom crust or fruit sugars.

Fresh Fruit Cobbler

  • 1 tablespoon + 6 tablespoons salted butter
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1-1/4 cups + 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 4 cups fresh fruit of your choice (my favorites are blackberry, peach, or blueberry)
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • Vanilla ice cream or whipped cream (optional)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Grease an 8” x 8” pan with 1 tablespoon of butter.  In a separate bowl, combine the egg, flour, and 1-1/4 cups of sugar until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Add ¼ cup of the flour mixture to the bottom of the pan.  Pour in the fruit and sprinkle the lemon juice on top. Spread the remaining flour mixture evenly over the fruit. Melt 6 tablespoons of butter and drizzle evenly over flour mixture. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of sugar on top.

Bake for 40 minutes, or until crust is golden brown.  Let sit for 10 minutes before serving.

Serve in individual dessert dishes and top with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream (optional).

Yield: 6 – 8 servings.

 


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FRESH Extravaganza!

 

I am blessed to live where fresh fruits, vegetables, and flowers are grown locally and readily available. This is blueberry, blackberry, and peach season in North Carolina, and for me, there is nothing quite like fresh picked berries and peaches.  Early in the morning, about every week or two during mid-summer, I treat myself to a 20-minute drive through lovely North Carolina countryside to Blueberry Thrill Farm.  If I can beat the heat, berry picking is a joy.  Seeing families and friends enjoying their time together and hearing the kids announcing their conquest of the “Biggest One EVER!” or “Dad, you’re not gonna believe how many berries I just picked” makes me smile.  Women chat about what they will make when they get home – cobblers, pies, salads, cakes, ice cream – old family recipes or something new they want to try.  Dads and grand-dads hold the kids up to reach the high ones, and help to referee contests between siblings.  Honestly, it’s a slice of Americana, a great learning experience for young and old alike, and generally a very pleasant way to spend a couple of hours on a summer morning.  I think it’s the berries and the flowers – I think they make people happy!

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Blueberries have been folded in to pancakes for Sunday brunch, sprinkled on sweet kale salads, and combined with sweet corn in a delightful summer salad.  I’ll be freezing some from this picking.  And I think I have enough left for a cobbler!

I made cinnamon applesauce from the summer apples – some for enjoying now and some is in the freezer waiting to brighten a winter day!

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And the flowers, oh the flowers!  Beautiful! Zinnias, Ageratum, Cosmos, Globe Amaranth, Lemon Balm.  Picked a 5-gallon bucket full and arranged some Mason jar bouquets for the kind vet clinic staff who take such good care of our canine kids (and us too).  We appreciate them!

So, here are a couple of my favorite fresh blueberry recipes.  I’ll be sharing some more in future posts.

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Blueberry and Sweet Corn Salad

  • 3 cups fresh blueberries
  • 2 cups fresh sweet corn, cooked and cut off the cob
  • 1 small red onion, chopped
  • 1 orange or red bell pepper

Dressing:

  • 3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lime or lemon juice – your preference
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons canola oil

Mix all dressing ingredients in a bowl, except for oil, and whisk until sugar is dissolved.  Slowly add canola oil and continue to whisk until dressing thickens.  Set aside.

In a separate bowl, combine blueberries, corn, pepper, & onion.  Add dressing and toss gently.  Cover and chill for at least 1 hour.

Makes a great light side dish to grilled chicken or pork chops. Or, enjoy on a bed of fresh salad greens or as a salsa with salty tortilla chips.

Makes 4 – 6 servings.

 

Blueberry Coffee Cake

Pecan Topping:

  • ½ cup butter
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 tablespoon grated lemon peel
  • 1 cup chopped pecans

Batter:

  • 1 cup butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 ¾ cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons grated lemon peel
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 pint fresh blueberries (or frozen) – rinsed, drained, and patted dry.

Prepare topping. In small saucepan over low heat, melt butter.  Remove from heat and stir in flour, pecans, sugar and lemon peel to form a soft dough.  Set aside.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease and flour a 9”x13” baking pan.

Prepare batter. Cream butter and sugar. Reduce speed to low, add flour, baking powder, lemon peel, salt and eggs. Increase speed, beat until smooth and creamy. Smooth evenly in to greased baking pan.  Top with blueberries and crumbled pecan topping. Bake 45 minutes or until golden. Lovely when served warm.  Serves 16.