Favorite Summer Salad: Shaved Zucchini & Pecorino

There’s something about the combination of raw (or briefly blanched) and young (or thinly shaved) vegetables with Pecorino Romano cheese that I find irresistible. Which vegetables meet this criteria? I can name only a few — asparagus (shaved), fennel (shaved), fava beans (briefly blanched) and summer squash (julienned on a mandoline) — but many more exist. When fresh, these vegetables need little more than salt, pepper, olive oil and lemon juice — no cooking is necessary (with the exception, of course, of the fava beans).

After discovering this zucchini salad last summer, I prepared it often, and on more than one occasion, made myself sick to my stomach. I think raw zucchini might be a little harsh on the stomach? Don’t let that deter you, however. Just a little warning.

Now, why Pecorino over Parmigiano? Parmigiano Reggiano would be a fine substitute, but there’s something about Pecorino that I’m really liking these days — I think it’s its saltiness. Cut it the same way as in the fava bean and pecorino salad: Stick the tip of a big chef’s knife right into the block and twist until nice chards break from the block.

Zucchini and Pecorino Salad
Serves 2 as a side dish

1 zucchini, about 8-inches long
Pecorino Romano cheese, to taste
kosher salt
freshly ground pepper
extra virgin olive oil
1 lemon, halved

1. Shave the zucchini on a mandoline into thin spaghetti-like strips. Place in a bowl. Stick the tip of a big chef’s knife into a wedge of Pecorino and twist until nice chards break from the block. Add to the bowl. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Drizzle olive oil over the mixture. Squeeze with lemon. Gently toss and serve.

Fava Bean and Pecorino Salad

I cook fava beans once a year. When I spot the first of the season at the market, I fill up a bag, take them home and set to work, peeling, blanching and then peeling again. I open Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse Vegetables and weigh my options: purée them and stir them into risotto or eat them raw with prosciutto and Pecorino. I’m sorry, but anything that calls for two peelings is not going into my blender. And so, I eat the fava beans raw, tossed with olive oil and lemon juice and mixed with parmesan or Pecorino. And I don’t share them with anyone because the two pounds I peeled yields only enough for a small snack. But they are so good. Definitely worth the double peeling. At least once a year.

OK, so I’m being a little dramatic, but seriously, fava beans are a lot of work. I will cook them more than once this year, and I will share them, but I will cook them only at opportune times, like when I invite friends over who have small children with little fingers who will work swiftly.

With this salad, I like the Pecorino to be in big chunks. I’m a big fan of shaving cheese with a peeler or with a sharp knife, but with this salad I use a different technique: I stick the point of a large, sharp knife directly into the block of Pecorino and twist. It breaks into nice, flaky shards. Parley is a nice addition to this salad, but not critical. And a finely chopped shallot or red onion is also a nice touch.

Fava Bean and Pecorino Salad
Serves 4

2 to 3 lbs. fresh fava beans, shelled
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
4 oz. Pecorino Romano
extra-virgin olive oil
1 to 2 lemons
finely chopped parsley

1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the fava beans and cook for one minute. Drain, then plunge the beans into an ice bath and let cool. Drain again. Peel the beans and place into a mixing bowl.

2. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Break the Pecorino into big chunks and sprinkle them into the bowl.

3. Drizzle olive oil over the mixture and toss. Sprinkle with lemon juice to taste. Add the parsley, toss again, and serve.

Blood Oranges and Ettinger Avocados

OK, I know, my consumption of oranges and avocados is getting out of hand. What’s pictured below is just my mid-morning snack. Ben drew the line last night before dinner. He told me he was starting to get “freaked out.”

To be fair, let me put his comment in context. For the most part, we have been eating the widely recognized Hass avocados — the dark, rough-skinned variety. Last night, however, I changed things up a bit and pulled out the Ettinger avocado I had purchased at the Sunday farmers’ market. A woman working at the Eli’s Ranch table told me Ettinger avocados have a “buttery texture” and “a pine nut flavor.” They also look like ostrich eggs, which I believe is what freaked Ben out.

I told Ben to look away as I sliced into its flesh. I didn’t want him to lose his appetite. Once on the plate, sprinkled with a little salt, however, these avocados look just like all the others, and Ben could eat his meal in peace.

Blood Oranges. Since reading a post in Matt Bites about a blood orange and campari cocktail I have been wanting to a.) make the drink and b.) experiment more with blood oranges. I have yet to make the cocktail but I have been eating my fair share of blood oranges. Mixed with avocados, sprinkled with sea salt and drizzled with olive oil, they make a yummy, simple salad or, as I mentioned above, a nice mid-morning snack.

Last night, I made a vinaigrette using the juice of two blood oranges, shallots, olive oil and salt (using the same method described on the sidebar below) and tossed it with arugula and shaved parmesan. Yum.

That’s all for now. I will try to refrain from mentioning oranges and avocados in the near future.

A Simple, Yummy Snack
Serves 1

1 avocado
sea salt
2 blood oranges
good extra-virgin olive oil

1. Cut the avocado in half. Remove the pit. Scoop out the flesh. Cut into large chunks. Place on a plate. Sprinkle with sea salt.

2. Slice off the ends of each orange. Using a sharp knife, slice off the peel, removing as much of the pith as possible. Cut the orange into large chunks and add to the plate of avocados. Season with a touch more salt.

3. Drizzle with olive oil. Eat.

A crate filled with Ettinger avocados. OK, so they don’t really look like ostrich eggs, but they are significantly larger than Hass.

Roots of Change Meeting & More Arugula

Before I moved out to California, Bob Pierson, director of Farm-To-City, told me my new state would be decades ahead — agriculturally speaking — of the East Coast. While I have been amazed at the number of farmers’ markets out here, only after yesterday am I beginning to understand what he meant.

You see, despite the obscene amounts of avocados and oranges I’ve been delighting in, I’ve actually spent the past month feeling proud of Philadelphia and the diversity of local foods available to those living in and around the city. While the farmers’ markets run only from May until December, Philadelphians can shop year-round at the Fair Food Farmstand and have the option of joining buying clubs during the winter. As I mentioned recently, I lived ten blocks away from a source for local grass-fed beef, lamb and pork, raw milk, raw-milk cheeses, nitrate-free bacon, fresh chickens, eggs and seasonal fruits and vegetables.

I have encountered no such stand or source like the Fair Food Farmstand in my time thus far on the West Coast. Now, I could eat sautéed Swiss chard, mustard greens, kale, etc. mixed with rice and parmesan every night. However, I do have a husband to feed, and my recent dinners, I suspect, have left him wanting. The last time I made a meatless dinner, Ben said, “Mmmm, this is delicious,” and he cleared his plate. About an hour later, he was scrambling eggs and scouring the fridge for a morsel of protein to add to the pan.

So, I ventured down to San Diego two days ago to attend a Roots of Change meeting in search, I’ll admit, of meat. I wandered into the room, spotted the legendary Melanie Lytle and claimed a chair at her table. Before long, I saw the California Bob Pierson had described.

Like many people across the country, Californians are concerned about the current state of our food system and the future health of our communities and planet. These worries foremost, believes Larry Yee (County Director), are driving the “food revolution.”

People partake in this revolution in countless ways: by using reusable shopping bags at the grocery store; by boycotting bottled water; by shopping at farmers’ markets; by joining CSAs and buying clubs; by shopping for humanely raised meats; by purchasing organic and locally grown foods.

California, I learned, has taken this effort to the next level: Roots Of Change has drafted a comprehensive plan to create a sustainable food system in the state of California by the year 2030. This plan demands the collaboration of food producers, food distributors, businesses, nonprofits, government agencies, foundations, etc. As Yee noted, a sustainable food system — not just a sustainable agriculture system — is the goal of this ROC initiative. In a state where many people with diverse interests coexist, an “enlightened leadership,” says Yee is critical to the success of this project.

Yesterday, I learned a lot about my new state and, in particular, San Diego County:

California is:

• the nation’s most populous state; the nation’s largest food producer; and the world’s 5th largest supplier of food and agricultural commodities.

In San Diego County:

• there are more organic farms than any other county in the country.
• 63% of the farms are 1 to 9 acres.
• 92% of the farms are family owned.
• 22% of the farms are Native-American owned.

California, many of the speakers noted, is the most important agriculture place on Earth. With its countless forward-thinking foundations and entrepreneurs, California sets the trends for the world.

About half-way through the meeting, Michael Dimock, (President of ROC and MC of the event), passed the mic to the crowd.

• Naomi Butler, a nutritionist with the County of San Diego, stressed the importance of getting food into our school systems via garden and farm-to-school programs. We have to start, said Butler, “by changing the taste buds of our kids.”

• A young, private chef emphasized educating children on these matters because “they are the future.”

• Others inquired about increasing points of contact — farmers’ markets, co-ops, distribution centers, etc.

• One chef noted, “We have particular issues down here,” referring to the unique problems facing San Diego County. She worried about the welfare of the Spanish speaking community — how are we going to deal, she wondered, with immigration?

• One woman noted the number of farmers that will soon retire (a nation-wide reality) — what will happen to their farms?

While the challenges are vast, the bottom line, as Eric Larson (Executive Director of the San Diego County Farm Bureau) concluded, is straightforward: profitability. If farms are profitable, they’ll stay in business. Farmland is expensive in California and in a globalized world, small farmers face serious competition.

I drove home from the meeting feeling slightly overwhelmed, but understanding this: We have a lot of small farms in San Diego County. These small farms use organic and sustainable techniques. Our health as a community rests on the survival of these small farms. And the survival of these small farms demands the work of many hands.

I feel a little embarrassed knowing I had ventured down to the meeting primarily to learn how I could find meat for Ben and me. There are far more important issues to tackle, namely getting good food into schools and low-income communities. Alas, I am inspired by the many people involved in this daunting task, and hope to play a role in the ROC’s effort. Want to pitch-in? Join the ROC Leardership Network.

As I mentioned in my last post, the farmers’ market arugula has been delectable, tasting particularly spicy. This bunch comes from Don’s Farm in Wildomar, CA (purchased at the Sunday San Clemente farmers’ market … shocker). As Don calculated my total, he looked a little nervous, apologizing for some of the dirt, explaining he had pulled the arugula out of the ground in complete darkness at 4:00 that morning. Don had nothing to worry about — a quick soak in cold water removed any lingering dirt. Besides, for greens this fresh and tasty, anyone can live with a little dirt.

I find a simple lemon vinaigrette to be the best dressing for arugula, (a deduction likely influenced by my love for Melograno’s arugula and prosciutto salad). I don’t have a precise recipe for this dressing, but I follow Alice Waters’ method as described in Chez Panisse Vegetables. She begins many of her vinaigrettes by macerating finely chopped shallots for about 20 minutes in either citrus juice or vinegar. She then adds salt, pepper, sugar, maybe mustard (I don’t have my book on hand to verify), finishing each dressing by slowly whisking in extra-virgin olive oil. It could not be simpler.

Arugula, Orange & Avocado Salad
Serves 4

1 shallot, finely diced
1 to 2 lemons, depending on size
sugar, to taste
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
extra-virgin olive oil

1 to 2 heads arugula
2 oranges
2 avocados
Parmigiano Reggiano,
shaved

1. Place the shallots in a small bowl. Squeeze the lemons over top, removing any seeds that fall in. Let sit for 20 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, prepare the salad: Place the arugula in a large bowl filled with cold water to soak. Peel the oranges, removing sections from the pith if desired. Slice the avocados in half; remove the pit; scoop out the flesh; and slice into strips or dice into cubes. Set aside.

3. To the bowl of shallots, add a ¼ teaspoon of sugar, a pinch of salt and pepper to taste. Slowly whisk in the oil. The mixture won’t totally emulsify. Taste, adjusting seasoning as necessary (with more sugar or oil, for example, if the mixture is too tart).

4. Drain the arugula and spin dry. Place the arugula in a bowl. Top with the oranges and avocados. Add dressing to taste. Toss gently. Divide among plates. Top each salad plate with a few shavings of Parmigiano Reggiano.

Mache and Persimmon Salad

I cannot believe it, but today my blog celebrates its one-year birthday. Exactly one year ago today, I wrote about quince membrillo, a sweet paste commonly served with several Spanish cheeses including Manchego, Roncal, Idiazabal and Zamorano. This past week, I introduced two good friends and their family members to membrillo and the tradition of eating membrillo with sheep’s milk cheeses. My friends, Emily and James, married in Cyprus July 18, celebrated their marriage stateside this past Sunday in Chapel Hill, and in the days leading up to the festivities, we enjoyed many delectable dinners together commenced with this classic combination.

While in North Carolina, Emily and I spent a good hour one day touring around a gourmet food shop, A Southern Season, where I found among many goodies a large selection of Cypress Grove cheeses (Cypress Grove makes Humbolt Fog). Being vegetarians, James and Emily try to eat cheeses specifically made without rennet, a coagulating enzyme made from the stomach of calves. Many, if not all, of Cypress Grove cheeses are made with a vegetarian rennet, including a yummy sheep’s milk cheese called Lamb Chopper, which we savored with the membrillo. We actually enjoyed the fruit paste with all of the cheeses — Brie, Morbier, Tomme de Savoie — we ate this past week, but the Lamb Chopper-membrillo combination proved the best of all.

My week in North Carolina to say the least was memorable. By the end of each day, my face hurt from smiling and laughing so much — I lived with James’ family for the week, a family of four funny children, two entertaining parents and two wonderful dogs. We played Scrabble and ping pong, watched Mostly Martha and Grizzly Man, took walks with Molly and Sally (the dogs), and generally just enjoyed the time spent together with good company.

On one of the first nights of my visit, we also enjoyed thin slices of Fuyu persimmons with all of the cheeses. Fuyu persimmons make a nice seasonal addition to many dishes, including salads and paninis. Available from September through December, persimmons peak in November, perfect timing for the Thanksgiving Day feast. If you’re sill searching for a first course to prepare for Thursday’s meal, try this salad — elegant, seasonal and delectable — a festive addition to the Thanksgiving Day table.

Mache and Persimmon Salad
Serves 4

2 small shallots
2 tablespoons champagne vinegar
2 tablespoons lemon juice
½ teaspoon Dijon mustard
¼ teaspoon sugar
½ teapoon kosher salt
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 Fuyu persimmons
4 oz. piece of Parmigiano Reggiano
8 oz. mache
freshly ground pepper

To make the dressing, whisk the shallots, vinegar, lemon juice, mustard, sugar and salt together. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil, whisking constantly to make an emulsified dressing. Set aside.

Cut the ends off each persimmon. With a paring knife, slice off the skin, removing as little flesh as possible. Using a mandoline, cut each persimmon into thin slices. (Alternatively, slice thinly using a sharp knife.) Set aside

Using a peeler or a knife, shave thin long strips off the block of Parmigiano. Set aside.

Place greens in a bowl and toss lightly with the vinaigrette. Divide the slices of persimmon evenly among the plates. Top each with a generous handful of greens. Top with the cheese shavings. Crack pepper over each salad and serve.

Figs & Fennel

Several weeks ago, just before my friend Meredith (fourth year medical student, see previous entry) departed for a grueling one-month surgical rotation in Pittsburg, Ben and I had the pleasure of dining with her and her fiancé, Matt (private chef on the Main Line). We again chose Sovalo — Matt and Mere’s favorite spot — and again delighted in a wonderful dinner.

Some of the more memorable dishes of the evening include a homemade ravioli stuffed with figs, a tortelli tossed with duck confit and mushrooms, and a crispy pan-seared red snapper. The shaved fennel and Parmigiano Reggiano salad, however, tossed lightly in a lemon vinaigrette and served with prosciutto di Parma and fresh figs, was perhaps the favorite selection of the evening.

The combination of fennel and Parmigiano never fails to please but the addition of prosciutto and figs made every bite in this appetizer truly delectable. While I haven’t made a trip to the Fair Food Farmstand in a couple weeks (so sad! CSA season has ended), I doubt they still have this variety of figs, though they carried them through the first week of October at least. With a tender green skin and a brilliant magenta-colored and sweet-tasting interior, these figs make any salad restaurant worthy. Black mission figs, however, the variety served at Sovalo, will more than suffice.

We concluded the evening with two desserts, one of which we particularly enjoyed/attacked: a biscotti tirimisu layered with fruit and I believe some sort of custard, but that part of the evening, to be honest, is a touch fuzzy … cockails at the bar before dinner, wine during, Frangelico and coffee for some (me) after, and Port for all, suddenly add up — afterall it was a bon voyage dinner for our poor Pittsburg-bound Mere-Mere. Only two more weeks Mere!

Fig and Fennel Salad
Serves 4

2 fennel bulbs
olive oil
1 lemon, juiced
kosher salt and pepper
Parmigiano Reggiano
8 thin slices of prosciutto di Parma
12 fresh figs, halved

Using a mandoline or knife, slice the fennel as thinly as possible. Place in a bowl, drizzle with olive oil and the lemon juice, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Toss to coat evenly. Add a few shavings of cheese and toss lightly. Set aside.

Lay 2 slices of prosciutto on each plate. Top with a mound of the fennel-parmigiano mixture, and scatter six fig halves around the fennel. Serve.

Black Prince Tomatoes & Chocolate Chip Cookies

chewy chocolate chip cookie with a touch of salt on top

I never thought I would say that I have a favorite tomato, but as of this past Saturday I do. As I passed through Reading Terminal Market on my way to the Fair Food Farmstand, I stopped at the Livengood stand, struck by the array of tomatoes on their table. I asked one of the men to suggest a tomato for a simple salad and he handed me a Black Prince. I purchased a dozen, made my way to the Farmstand for grass-fed ground beef, then headed home.

After a slight detour that led me to purchase 10 tiki torches (the price was ridiculous, really), I found my way home and started preparing for a dinner with five friends: Bates and Will, recently married and about to move to Syria for a year; Steph and Mike, recently engaged and big fans of grass-fed beef and their new East Coast city; and our friend Jon, single and still recovering from his great Asian adventure. Oh and much to my surprise, when I greeted my friends at the door, Bug, Bates and Will’s dachshund, had decided to make the trip from New York City too! Read all about the life of Bug (and Bates and Will), the latest plans for Steph and Mike’s wedding in Cabo and Jon’s wild last day in Hanoi.

By the light of the torches and a few candles, the six of us wholly enjoyed homemade hummus and pita prepared by Steph, olives brought by the New York crew and hamburgers made with Dr. Angusburger beef. The tomatoes, however, were the highlight of the evening. With basil from the farmstand, Claudio’s fresh mozzarella, olive oil, balsamic vinegar and a touch of salt, the tomatoes made a perfect salad.

Bates particularly appreciated how the tomatoes had been cut — in irregular chunks as opposed to slices — finding them easier to eat. For these shapes, I must give credit to the chef I worked under at Fork, Thien Ngo, who always plated food with a “chaos theory” in mind. He would “trash” restaurants whose food looked like “legos” on the plate. He preferred the very natural look, believing that the plating of food reflects how much the food has been handled.

Warm chocolate chip cookies and delectable green figs from the Farmstand finished the evening nicely. The simple dinner had been a success, as had the weekend as a whole: The following day, we walked to the Headhouse Farmers’ Market, where my friends all purchased cheese from Birchrun Hills Farm and met the wonderful Sue Miller. Then we walked to Reading Terminal and of course paid a visit to the Fair Food Farmstand where I showed my friends where I buy, among many groceries, grass-fed ground beef and raw milk, which we had all delighted in that morning for breakfast. And before sending them back on the Chinatown bus, we savored fresh rice noodles at Ding Ho — a perfect weekend indeed!

Soft and Chewy Chocolate-Chip Cookies
Yields about 35 1¾ oz cookies

10¾ oz unsalted butter (1 1/3 cups)
10¼ oz light brown sugar (1½ cups packed)
7¾ oz granulated sugar (1 cup)
2 large eggs
1 T. pure vanilla extract
17 oz unbleached all-purpose flour (3¾ cups)
1¼ tsp table salt
1 tsp. baking soda
12 oz semisweet chocolate chips

Cream butter and sugars together in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, until light and fluffy. Scrape the bowl, beat again on high for one minute. Add the eggs and vanilla and beat until well blended, about another minute on medium-high speed. Whisk flour, salt and baking soda together in separate bowl. Add to butter mixture and combine with a spatula or wooden spoon until just blended. Add the chocolate chips and stir till combined. The dough will be stiff.

Portion into 1¾ oz sized balls. This is a tedious task, but it makes for beautiful and uniform cookies that bake evenly. If you have a digital scale, this is an easy task; if you have no scale, use a small ice cream scoop or some other uniform measuring device. Chill the portioned balls for at least three hours, or freeze for months.

Preheat oven to 375°. Place portioned balls nicely spaced on an ungreased jelly roll pan. Flatten slightly with the back of a spoon. Bake 8-11 minutes, rotating the sheet halfway through cooking. Keep a close watch. You want to remove the cookies from the oven when they still look slightly raw—you will think you are removing them too early. The cookies will continue cooking as they sit on the tray out of the oven. Let sit for 5 minutes on tray before removing to a cooling rack, and let cool completely before storing.

Bug, enjoying the wilderness in a Philadelphia backyard:

Watermelon Gazpacho & Watermelon Salad

watermelon gazpacho

Last month for two weeks in a row, I received watermelons in my CSA. Though they were small, I hesitated from cracking into them, fearing I wouldn’t finish them on my own. So I let them sit for a few days until I received a fortuitous email from the Fair Food Farmstand. Emily Teel, the manager, sends an email each week listing the products the stand has in stock along with some seasonal recipes. When I saw the recipe for watermelon gazpacho, I set to work in the kitchen. Before too long, I had found a wonderful use for my two sugar baby watermelons, and produced a most delectable soup that I enjoyed, with the help of my sister, for the next few days.

While my sister and I slurped this minty, refreshing soup straight from the Tupperware containers I had packed it in, this gazpacho really deserves a more honorable presentation: The combination of colorful vegetables of all shapes and textures floating in a magenta base is truly striking. Served with a wedge of avocado and a sprig of mint in delicate bowls, this simple chilled soup makes an elegant summer meal.

When I first saw feta paired with watermelon, I thought the combination seemed odd, and truthfully, not that appetizing. My mother and I have been trying to remember where we first saw the duo — possibly a Jean Georges or Todd English cookbook, but we’re not quite sure. In any case, sweet and salty ingredients, hardly a novel concept, often work nicely together, watermelon and feta being one example. Only a few more weeks of watermelon season remain, so enjoy them while you can!

Watermelon Gazpacho
From Emily Teel, manager of the Fair Food Farmstand

3 pounds of watermelon flesh, diced (about 5 cups), divided
1 small cucumber, peeled, seeded, diced (about 1 cup)
1 red bell pepper, seeded, diced (about 1 cup)
1 pint yellow cherry or sungold tomatoes, quartered (about 1 cup)
1 small jalapeño chile, seeded, minced
3 pale green inner celery stalks, diced (about ½ cup)
½ small red onion, diced (about 1 cup)
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
¼ teaspoon salt
5-8 mint leaves, finely chopped
avocado for garnish

Puree 4 cups watermelon in blender until smooth. Transfer puree to large bowl. Add remaining 1 cup diced watermelon and next 10 ingredients; stir to combine. Cover gazpacho and refrigerate until cold, at least 1 hour and up to 4 hours.

Divide gazpacho among bowls. Top each with a slice of avocado.

Watermelon and Feta Salad
Serves 1

4 slices watermelon
2 ounces feta cheese
2 slices Prosciutto di Parma
extra-virgin olive oil
aged balsamic vinegar or reduced balsamic (see recipe below)
kosher salt and pepper to taste

Place watermelon wedges on a plate. Crumble feta cheese over the watermelon. Lay the prosciutto aside the watermelon. Drizzle entire plate with olive oil, balsamic, salt and pepper to taste.

Reduced Balsamic
Yield = ¼ cup

½ cup Rainwater Madeira
1 cup commercial balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon brown sugar

Place Madeira in a small saucepan and simmer over medium heat until reduced to about 1 tablespoon. Add the balsamic vinegar and boil until the vinegar has reduced to about ¼ cup and is very syrupy and big shiny bubbles are forming at the surface. Watch the mixture very closely at this point—it will burn easily. Remove from the heat and stir in the brown sugar until dissolved. Pour into a clean jar and cool before using.

Peach and Beet Salad

I can’t promise this will be my last peach post, but I’m definitely reaching my peach limit. Thanks to my literary mother who located this poem by Li-Young Lee, I can finally post some eloquent words in the name of my favorite summer fruit. “From Blossoms” is printed in Li-Young Lee’s first book of poems Rose (Boa editions, Ltd., 1986)

From Blossoms

Li-Young Lee

From blossoms comes

this brown paper bag of peaches

we bought from the boy

at the bend in the road where we turned toward

signs painted Peaches.

From laden boughs, from hands,

from sweet fellowship in the bins,

comes nectar at the roadside, succulent

peaches we devour, dusty skin and all,

comes the familiar dust of summer, dust we eat.

O, to take what we love inside,

to carry within us an orchard, to eat

not only the skin, but the shade,

not only the sugar, but the days, to hold

the fruit in our hands, adore it, then bite into

the round jubilance of peach.

There are days we live

as if death were nowhere

in the background; from joy

to joy to joy, from wing to wing,

from blossom to blossom to

impossible blossom, to sweet impossible blossom.

Reproduced from Rose by Li-Young Lee

Peach and Beet Salad

Serves 4

1 lbs. beets
2 T. pine nuts
2 peaches
4 oz. goat cheese
small handful of basil
Cider Vinaigrette (below)

Preheat the oven to 450ºF. Trim beets of their greens and discard. Place beets in a small shallow pan such as an 8 by 8 baking pan or 9-inch pie plate. Fill pan with water to reach an 1/8 of an inch high. Cover pan with foil and place in the oven for 45 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool completely.

Beets at the Green Market, Union Square, New York City:

Meanwhile, toast the pine nuts in a small nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until golden. Set aside.

Cut rough end (not long pointy end) off and discard. Rub the beets of their skin and discard. Slice beets in half through the long pointy end, then continue cutting into large wedges. Place on a large serving platter.

Slice the peaches in half, twist gently to release the pit. Cut peaches into wedges about the same size as the beets. Add to the platter. Crumble goat cheese over the peaches and beets and sprinkle with the pine nuts. Scatter small basil leaves over the top, tearing big leaves into smaller pieces if necessary. Sprinkle whole salad with salt and pepper to taste.

Give dressing a stir and with a large tablespoon, spoon dressing to taste over the top of the salad. Do not toss. Serve, passing more dressing if necessary.

Cider Vinaigrette
Yield = 3/4 cup

1 tsp. Dijon mustard
1½ tsp. honey
¼ tsp. kosher salt
freshly ground pepper to taste
¼ cup cider vinegar
½ cup extra virgin olive oil

Whisk mustard, honey, salt, pepper and vinegar. Drizzle in the olive oil, whisking to mix, but do not emulsify. Set aside.

Stuffed-Squash Blossoms Tempura

Every year I look forward to the arrival of squash blossoms at the farmers’ markets. There seems to be only one way to prepare this seasonal delicacy: Stuff them; batter them; fry them. As the Barefoot Contessa says, “How bad can that be?”

I first tasted stuffed blossoms when I worked at Fork. There, during the summer, the fried and stuffed zucchini blossoms replace the onion rings on their signature romaine salad with sauce gribiche. Regulars at Fork adore sauce gribiche, a dressing made with olive oil, lemon juice, capers, chopped cornichons, shallots and tons of fresh herbs — tarragon, parsley, chervil, chives and thyme.

A staple on the menu year round, this salad becomes even more popular every summer with the addition of these delectable edible flowers. I like Fork’s preparation: They stuff them minimally with an herbed goat cheese and coat them in a simple tempura batter. I prefer the light coating of tempura to the frequently used flour, egg, breadcrumb coating, which also is delicious.

This year, Weaver’s Way Co-op at the Sunday Headhouse Farmers’ Market has been carrying the blossoms consistently at three for a dollar or 40 cents each. For a perfect summer meal, make a simple romaine salad with a modified gribiche dressing (recipe below), top with some crispy blossoms and serve with fresh bread and cheese. To quote my favorite food network star again, “Who wouldn’t like that?”

Stuffed-Squash Blossoms Tempura
Serves 4 as an appetizer

1 small shallot, minced
¼ C. basil, chopped finely
¼ C. goat cheese
¼ C. fresh ricotta
kosher salt and pepper

1 egg
½ C. ice water
¾ C. flour

8 squash blossoms
canola oil for frying

In a small bowl, mix the shallots, basil, goat cheese, ricotta and salt and pepper to taste. Refrigerate until ready to use.

In a separate bowl, whisk egg, water and flour. Don’t overmix: batter should be lumpy. Set aside.

Place heaping teaspoons of the cheese mixture into the center of each squash blossom. Place blossoms on a plate, cover with a paper towel or plastic wrap and chill until ready to fry.

Line a plate with paper towels. Heat oil in a large, wide mouth. When a sprinkling of flour sizzles in the oil, the oil is ready for the blossoms. Dip the blossoms one by one into the tempura batter, then place carefully into the oil. Fry each for 30 seconds a side until crisp. Transfer to a prepared plate until all blossoms have been fried.

Serve immediately with a crisp romaine salad dressed in a simple vinaigrette: whisk 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard, 1½ teaspoon honey, ¼ teaspoon kosher salt, freshly ground pepper to taste, 3 tablespoons capers, ¼ cup chopped parsley, ¼ cup cider vinegar and ½ cup extra virgin olive oil until combined.

A patch of pattypan squash blossoms growing on Sam Consylman’s farm in Lancaster: