I love cookbooks. One might even say I’m addicted to collecting them.
I enjoy learning about different cultures through their food and recreating it in my own kitchen. However, there are many times when I just don’t have the time, or ingredients, to whip up a particular dish at a moments’ notice. That’s when I rely on a little creativity, some pantry items and nature’s bounty.
Summertime is a great excuse to get creative in the kitchen. Though we spend most of our time entertaining the kids, making sure their reading and math packets are completed and lazing at the beach, we still have to get the troops fed. Our backyard garden (or farmer’s market) surplus often provides us with the makings of fast, healthy and delicious meals.
Just the other day I harvested a basket brimming with heirloom tomatoes, eggplants, zucchini, beans and cucumbers from my garden. Not wanting to spend too much time slaving over a hot stove or getting bogged down in a complicated recipe, I put my thinking cap on and got to work.
The Japanese eggplants that I collected were beautiful and since they don’t have a long shelf life and shouldn’t be refrigerated, I thought I’d use those first. I cut them cross-wise, tossed them in a bit of extra-virgin olive oil with salt and pepper and roasted them in a 450 degree oven until golden and tender.
I cooked the beans in a pot of boiling water with a few bay leaves, an onion and a head of garlic (hey, I’m Italian.) I also added a piece of kombu (seaweed); it helps tenderize the beans and, ah, eliminate any “noxious effects.” Don’t forget to salt your beans toward the end of the cooking time. Canned beans are a perfect stand in, just remember to drain and rinse them.
These items were the beginning of a delicious and hearty salad. While the eggplant and beans were cooking I sliced tomatoes, cucumbers, red onion, a clove of garlic (once again…Italian), an avocado and some parsley and basil from my herb garden. I added the beans and eggplant and tossed it all with a balsamic vinaigrette (feel free to use your favorite bottled dressing.) Lastly, I found some quinoa in the fridge from the day before and tossed that in as well making this a complete one-course meal with virtually no cooking time.
I know there are some who roll their eyes at the notion of cooking in the summer unless it involves a grill and rolls; but experiencing the summer through the fresh produce we are so lucky to be surrounded by (think Red Bank Farmer’s Market or your own back yard) is a fleeting treat that should not be overlooked.