Posts filed under Vegetarian

For the birds? Spring peas and asparagus with millet

Mother Nature, why do you keep messing with us?

If you can’t make up your mind what season it is, how are we supposed to know what to eat?

Regular readers here may believe that I have officially crossed over to the yet unclassified condition known as weather-dependence.

Boring? Yes.

Incurable? Not sure. But I ask you, how does anyone know what they feel like eating, and by extension, cooking, without seasonal signposts? No matter if the climate comes from the outside or the inside. Who hasn’t downed a pint of haagen dazs—make mine vanilla—in the midst of a personal global warming meltdown? We need parameters.

So, I am making up your mind for you, Mother Nature. Tease us. Blow hot or blow cold. I’m going with spring today, because I found a bag of shelled English peas in the market. (Trader Joe’s if anyone wants to know.) Now I’m all for meditating over a basket of peas, shucking them on the back steps and all that. But it is a summer occupation, a ritual I rely on when I need a vacation even though I am really just at home, wishing I were on a screen porch somewhere. For now, I’ll take the bag, and thank you very much Trader Joe’s.

I was expecting the peas to be starchy and a bit mushy, since as a general rule, peas’ sweetness migrates to starchiness soon after they are picked (hence the acceptability of, and often preference for, frozen peas), but these were pleasantly sweet and firm.

To make a quick grain and vegetable dish, I added some asparagus and chose millet (which is actually a seed, not a grain.) Why bird food, you ask? Well, I hadn’t cooked with it before, and what with all the hoo ha about quinoa, I wanted a change. It cooks quickly, too. I followed Whole Foods’ directions and destroyed the first batch with too much water. After that fiasco, I cut way back on the liquid, added some lemon juice and salt, and the grains emerged from the pot golden and separate with a hint of bite.

Then, as I was writing this post, a memory of a trip we took about 10 years ago popped up (really, where does the time go?) I was able to rummage around for these rudimentary photos of a tiny village in Tanzania where millet is a staple. Why it took me so long to cook it is a mystery. Turns out millet has been cultivated for at least ten thousand years, and since it grows well in harsh areas susceptible to drought, it is a staple in Africa and parts of Asia. It is an excellent source of magnesium (good heart health), phosphorous, iron and B vitamins. So there.

Serve it with roast chicken or some plain grilled meat or fish. If you like, add leftovers to your leftover pilaf: stir in some cooked chicken and eat it for lunch.

Millet with spring vegetables

Serves 4

For the millet

1 cup millet

1 3/4 cups water

Juice of 1/2 lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

Combine millet, water, lemon juice and salt in a saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Adjust the heat to a simmer and cover the pot. Cook for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the millet absorbs the water and is tender. Fluff with a fork.

For the pilaf

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 bunch scallions, trimmed and thinly sliced

1 pound asparagus, tough ends trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces

Salt and pepper, to taste

2 cups shelled English peas

Finely shredded zest of 1 lemon

1. Melt the butter over medium heat in a large sauté pan. Add the scallions and cook 1 minute, or until soft. Add asparagus, salt and pepper to taste, and 1/2 cup water. Cook 2 minutes over medium heat. Add peas and 1/4 cup more water if pan is dry. Cook 1 to 2 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender. Stir in half the lemon zest.

2. Toss the millet and vegetables together in a serving bowl. Taste and add more salt and pepper if you like. Sprinkle with remaining lemon zest.

Posted on April 20, 2012 and filed under Vegetarian, Side dishes, Spring food, Beans and Grains.

It’s Sunday night. Do you know what’s in your refrigerator? (Recipe for vegetable a tart)

The leisurely family meal around our house on Sunday is more likely to be a breakfast affair than a Sunday supper. Though theoretically I love the idea of Sunday suppers, they haven’t materialized recently. Sunday breakfast , on the other hand, makes a lot more sense. Late risers of the household—Man of the House and College Boy, who may often be at home—are only too happy to gather ‘round the kitchen for a good ol’ bacon and egg feast. Sometimes it’s French toast, sometimes it’s waffles, sometimes it’s pancakes, but the common theme is that this family meal happens more towards the middle of the day than at the end and it has a lazy air about it. Homework, Sunday night travel, and various activities of a teenager gradually eroded our Sunday evening meal. So Sunday has become a good day to cobble something together from the freezer or the leftover shelf in the refrigerator

My mom began designating Sunday nights as ‘forage-and-fend for yourselves night’ once her children were grown, and I have adopted the same spirit of casualness without an actual duplication of her ritual. To be honest, I agree with Mom. I like to extend the laid back feeling of the day into the evening. I also hate waste. (I got that from Mom, too. She lived through the Great Depression.)

Speaking of which, have you noticed we’re still in a recession? I don’t know about you, but aside from my inherited and now ingrained dislike for wasting food, I don’t much like watching dollars go down the drain either. In her book Kitchen Counter Cooking School, Kathleen Flinn reports on how much people throw away. She experimented on herself by putting a sticky note on everything she bought and then adding it up when she tossed it. Not a pretty picture. I don’t have the patience for that exercise, but I sure can do the math in my head as I shove food down the disposal or throw it into the compost. Not only are there sad pieces of squishy lettuce in that pile, but also food that I might have put time into preparing. Double snap!

Remember I mentioned the leftover shelf in my fridge? Let’s talk about that. Do you have a place you stash things that need to be used pronto? I put mine front and center. I grew tired of throwing out all the weary looking stuff from the back of the refrigerator in one big purge before trash day. Instead I put them where I can see them, and when I want to procrastinate a trip to the market, I take a good look at what’s on that shelf and try to figure out what to do with it. That’s when knowing how to cook really comes in handy. I may incorporate bits and pieces from that shelf throughout the week in different meals, but on Sundays, I become more interested in using what is there, because I will probably shop within a few days and I’d like to start fresh.

So here’s what I found last week:

A hunk of goat cheese

A red pepper that was looking peaked

A few forlorn cherry tomatoes

Watercress that had seen better days

A lonely leek

A little cream from a recipe test that I know I won’t use for anything

End-of-the-road half-bunch of parsley

What to do? I could have made a stir-fry. Or an omelet. Or a vegetable “medley” to serve with some roast chicken. But wait, I didn’t have, and was not about to schlep to get, a chicken to roast. So, one route to take was to make a vegetable tart. I did have enough usable greens to make a decent salad, so it was a pretty obvious choice. What would you have done? Any suggestions?

Vegetable tart with goat cheese, peppers, and watercress

Makes 1 9-inch tart

Once upon a time a tart was called a quiche and the nomenclature was so overused that it became exhausted and buried itself in the retro food cemetery. But put the filling in a pretty tart pan and you have something to be excited about. Truth be told, just put it in a pie pan if you haven’t a tart pan—it’s all good. (And if you want to make it really easy, buy some prepared all-butter pie dough, no funny stuff.) You could use just about any leftover vegetable: cooked broccoli, asparagus, potatoes, even green beans. The vegetables should be cooked first, since they will not soften in the oven once they are combined with the tart filling.

Think through your choices—Asian flavors and goat cheese might not work very well. The idea is to use leftovers to create a whole greater (and better than) the sum of its parts, so choose discriminately. For example, the ginger root with mold on one end could still be trimmed and used, but it would not be compatible with the other ingredients here.

The base of the tart—that which binds it together—is eggs and cream or milk: for a 9-inch tart pan, use 3 eggs to 1 cup milk or cream. Whisk the eggs, then add the cream, salt, pepper, and herbs. Stir in the cheese (grated or in chunks if it is soft) and the cooked vegetables. Spoon the solid ingredients into the tart first, then pour the liquid over them, holding back a little. Don’t over-stuff the tart. If there is too much liquid, don’t use all of it (you will only waste a few tablespoons.)

For the tart dough

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

3 1/2 ounces (7 tablespoons) cold, unsalted butter, cut in thin slices

1 egg, beaten

1. Combine the all-purpose flour, whole wheat pastry flour, salt, and butter in a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Pulse several times until the butter is in small

baby-pea size pieces. Add the egg and pulse until the dough almost forms a ball. If it seems dry, add some cold water, 1 teaspoon at a time.

2. Empty the dough onto the countertop and press it into a round, flat disk. Wrap it in plastic and refrigerate for 20 to 30 minutes to allow the flour to absorb the liquid.

3. Remove the dough from the fridge. If you have made it several hours ahead of time, let it rest and soften at room temperature for about 15 minutes. Roll the dough into an 11-inch circle. Fit it into the pie pan, gently coaxing it into the corners of the pan without stretching it. Place the tart in the refrigerator and chill for 15 to 20 minutes.

For the tart filling

1 tablespoon butter

White part of 1 leek, thinly sliced (save tough green part in the freezer to use in stock)

1 handful of cherry tomatoes, halved

1 bunch watercress, thick stems removed

1 red pepper, roasted, peeled and sliced (see tutorial below)

3 eggs

1 cup milk or cream

1/2 teaspoon salt

Generous grindings of black pepper

1 handful of chopped parsley

3 ounces (85g) goat cheese, broken into pieces

1 9-inch tart pan lined with pastry (home made or store-bought)

1. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position. Heat the oven to 350 degrees.

2. Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the leeks and tomatoes, and cook for 4 to 5 minutes, or until soft. Stir in the watercress, and cook for 3 minutes, or until wilted. Stir in the roasted pepper. Set aside to cool for a few minutes.

3. Whisk the eggs in a bowl until yolks and whites are combined. Whisk in the cream, salt, pepper and parsley. Stir in the cheese and vegetables. With a slotted spoon, fill the tart with the solid ingredients, including the cheese. Pour the liquid over them until the tart is full but not brimming. Set the tart pan on a baking sheet, and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until set (toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.)

4. Remove tart from the oven and set on a rack to cool for about 10 minutes. Remove the tart rim and slice into serving wedges.

Quick tip: To remove the rim of a tart or cake pan, set the bottom of the pan on top of a large can of tomatoes and release the rim. If the dough sticks to the edges, gently insert a knife in the sticky places. Voila!

Tutorial: How to roast a pepper

The point of roasting a pepper is to remove its tough skin and soften it. The bonus is a lovely charred flavor. You can roast it outside on a grill, on the flame of a gas burner, or in the oven under the broiler. The broiler method may be the most convenient any time of year.

To roast a pepper over a flame, simply set it on the burner and turn it with tongs until the skin is completely black and blistered all over. The same method applies to a charcoal or gas grill.

To roast under the broiler, halve the pepper and remove the seeds. Set the halves with the skin side up on a baking sheet and brush with a little olive oil. Set the baking sheet about 4 inches from the broiler element and broil for 3 to 5 minutes. Keep an eye on it and move the pan often if necessary. When the pepper is black all over (notice how it is blistered on the top pepper) remove it from the oven. You will notice, too how the flesh beneath the skin is not black at all.

While the pepper is still hot, place it in a bowl and cover the bowl with a plate. Let it cool in the bowl for a few minutes. The steam helps release the skin from the flesh. 

Pull off the skin. Don't rinse the pepper under water, but rinse your hands if bits of pepper stick to them. Water will only wash away the flavor; a little bit of charred pepper is a good thing.

Winter vegetable pie recipe: a humble New Year’s feast

This recipe was published in the Boston Globe on 12/28/11  

The winter cometh. Finally. Not that I doubted it for a minute. But each day that passed without snow and freezing temperatures made me want to dance a little jig. If only I had the energy. Because though Christmas comes but once a year, and it is quite wonderful, it is also exhausting, is it not? I have been doing my darndest to stay in balance, to keep from eating and drinking just a tad too much of all that’s on offer: cookies and fruitcake and wine and Christmas dinner. So far, I’m not especially winning that battle. Now I want to eat something plain and simple. I am grateful to be staying home on New Year’s Eve to do just about nothing—maybe we’ll go out to a movie, and maybe we won’t. And maybe I’ll make a small version of this vegetable pie.

For the past fourteen years—I think it has been fourteen, but I lost count—I have gone to a friend’s house party in the mountains on New Year’s Eve. The house is a cavernous Adirondack style lodge on a lake designed by my friend to evoke the feeling of her childhood summers, but I reckon it is much grander in scale than the original. In any case, it accommodates a crowd, and we guests are appreciative of her efforts, since we are the beneficiaries, after all.

It started when our kids were little. We’d tuck them into bed after their mini feast of chicken nuggets (hey, they're Kaye's homemade and I’m not in charge of the menu here, I’m a guest!) and a snowman cake made from chocolate wafers and vanilla whipped cream. Once their cherubic eyes were shut fast, we’d start with a bit of champagne and caviar by the fire before we’d sit down to a feast of our own.

On the day of the Evening, a few of us brave the snow and ice, driving past tumbledown stone walls and the lovely woods (dark and deep) to keep our promises at the Hannaford supermarket. What can we forage from our list to fill the splendid table on this last night of the year?

Meanwhile, on this same day, the kids play games, indoors and out. And though they now tower over us, they still scream down snowy hills on giant Frisbees. Meanwhile again, the womenfolk who are so inclined cook and bake and work their fingers to the bone. Because now we have to feed not only ourselves, but those giants we spawned. And more than a few of their friends. Oh how naïve we were. By the time they’re in college they’re eating and drinking us under the table. You just can’t prepare yourself for that.

The grown-ups arrive in fancy dress—not clothes from racks on Fifth Avenue, but dug from the depths and piles of Goodwill or second-hand stores. Our hostess is cheerfully resplendent in some outrageous sparkly fluff, perhaps with a wig, wearing shoes in which a lesser mortal could no more navigate a dining room, never mind the stairs. After our chit-chat by the fire (note that it is now past ten o’clock) we eat dinner, and drink more wine and champagne. After dinner comes the mandatory countdown in Times Square as seen on television, which sets off cheers from a balcony overlooking the room, now populated with those very big people we can no longer call children even though they are still our children. Streamers, sparkles, streamers, cheers: a huge mess. But wait, there’s more. On to the champagne contest in which the guests try to rank the five or six bottles, contents in plastic champagne glasses all lined up and neatly numbered, to be judged in order of the most to the least expensive. The Mistress of Ceremonies tallies the result on a giant easel. This has gotten a bit unwieldy now that those giants I mentioned are of drinking age. Best not to go too deeply into that. Finally dessert. Because, as everyone knows, the best way to end such an evening is with a massive surge of sugar.

Friends, I will miss you this year. I hope we will meet again soon. My college boy is off to Iowa to take photographs and report about what he sees at the caucus. I take it as my cue to step back. Do a lot of nothing. Hope to keep my eyes open until midnight. And have a simple feast that will be more than a bowl of cereal, but just barely. I like the idea of grilled cheese sandwiches and a really, really good glass of champagne. If I feel more energetic, maybe I’ll scale down this pie to serve two.

May your days be sunny and bright

May your hearts be happy and light

Thanks to all of you who have

visited

conversed

read (!)

and subscribed

to Cooking Lessons this year.

Tempus fugit. May this be the year that, as in the words of Steve Jobs, you have the courage to follow your heart and your intuition and be who you truly want to become.

Happy, happy new year!

Winter vegetable pie

Serves 6 generously

When you crave something cozy and informal, feed this vegetarian version of shepherd’s pie to a group on New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Day, or on a Sunday. It makes enough to serve 6, but would serve more if you have other offerings. Use plenty of sharp cheddar for a cheesy topping; taste and add more as you like. It can be made and assembled a few hours ahead of time. Just increase the baking time to make sure it is piping hot when you serve it.

POTATOES

3 russet potatoes, peeled and cut into large chunks

Salt and pepper, to taste

3/4 cup milk, heated until hot

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

2 tablespoons snipped fresh chives or finely sliced scallion tops

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

1/2 cup (about 1 1/2 ounces) grated cheddar, or more, to taste

1. Combine the potatoes, cold water to cover, and 1 teaspoon salt in a large saucepan. Bring to a boil and simmer for 15 minutes, or until potatoes are easily pierced with a fork.

2. Drain the potatoes and return them to the saucepan. Cook, stirring constantly, over low heat for about 1 minute to dry them slightly. Mash with a potato masher while slowly adding the hot milk. Add the butter. Beat vigorously with a wire whisk until fluffy. Blend in the chives or scallions, parsley, and cheddar. Season with salt and pepper.

PIE

1 tablespoon unsalted butter, at room temperature

2 tablespoons flour

2 tablespoons olive oil

4 large parsnips, peeled,  halved lengthwise and cut into 1-inch lengths

4 large carrots, peeled, halved lengthwise and cut into 1-inch lengths

1 celery root, peeled, and cut into 1-inch pieces

2 turnips, peeled, and cut into 1-inch pieces

2 cups (8 or 9 ounces) frozen pearl onions

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary

Salt and pepper, to taste

1 cup white wine (or stock if not using wine)

4 cups vegetable stock

1. Heat the oven to 425 degrees. Blend the butter and flour until smooth in a small bowl.

2. Heat the oil in a large, flameproof casserole over medium-high heat. Add the parsnips, carrots, celery root, turnips, frozen onions, thyme, rosemary, and salt and pepper to taste. Cook, stirring often, until the vegetables are lightly browned. Add the wine and cook, stirring often, until it comes to a boil. Cover the pan, turn down the heat, and simmer for 12 minutes, or until vegetables are tender but still a little firm.

3. Add the stock and bring to a simmer. Push some vegetables aside and whisk in the butter and flour mixture.  Simmer for about 1 minute, until it melts into the stock. Add salt and pepper to taste. Transfer to a large (2 1/2 quart) baking dish.

4. Distribute large spoonfuls of mashed potatoes over the vegetables. Spread with a fork and, if you like, make a wave pattern with the tines of the fork.

5. Bake for 20 minutes, or until the filling is bubbly and the top is golden.

Cooking Lesson

Breaking it down: If life were only as simple as cutting vegetables. There are only two things to remember about cutting vegetables: sticks and blocks. You may have to make slices first from which to make the sticks, but that’s all there is to it. Because

Nicely cut vegetables look pretty

Evenly cut vegetables cook, well, evenly

And furthermore: I know I said only two, but here are two more:

Keep your fingers out of the way

Always cut with the flat side down 

Tutorial:

How to deal with a gnarly vegetable (celery root)

Forget the peeler; it is an exercise in frustration. Slice off the top and bottom of the root. Stand it up so it sits firmly with the flat side down on a cutting board. Saw from top to bottom with a sharp paring knife to remove the rough outer coating in wide slices.

Cut in slices (e.g., 1-inch thick if you want 1-inch cubes). Cut slices into 1-inch sticks. Cut sticks into 1-inch blocks. See what I mean? It's all about sticks and blocks. The same goes for long, skinny vegetables like carrots.

Browning them in the pan adds a lot of flavor

It's been so warm that rosemary and thyme are still surviving in the garden. You can tie them in a bundle to flavor the vegetables, or use dried herbs when fresh ones are not easily at hand.

Northerners, stay warm--you other people, well, just happy new year!

At the bitter(sweet) end of summer: eggplant casserole

Yes, I do realize it is fall, but I am not listening. I am not ready to embrace squash and pumpkins. Why? I missed summer. I didn’t feel the sand between my toes, or even put on a bathing suit (which for most of us ladies is always a blessing). It just turned out that way. I’d explain, but frankly, it is not that interesting.

As a result of all the stuff I’m not bothering to bore you with,  I realized I needed to get OUT. Somewhere. Anywhere. Away.

Being a procrastinator has its upside. You avoid the crowds.

Ahhhhhhhhhhhh.

Oh, right, this is a food blog. 

So these beauties were still in the market and here's what I made with them: eggplant casserole. I also bought up the last of the tomatoes to make fresh tomato sauce to use and freeze. You can too.

If your market or your garden is still hanging in there with tomatoes (and basil) you can make this sauce and freeze it. Don’t want to bother with sauce from fresh tomatoes? then try this quick one from

Jody and Ken (Jody Adams of Rialto Restaurant in Cambridge MA and writer husband Ken Rivard just started blogging; you should check them out and pick up a few of Jody’s tips, such as how to peel tomatoes something I'm too lazy to do Jody's way.) I won’t be too jealous if you decide to make their eggplant Parm instead of this one.

Speaking of eggplant: Eggplant’s texture is like a sponge and it therefore soaks up a lot of oil. Older eggplant is like an even drier sponge and soaks up more oil. Brushing it lightly with oil and broiling it cooks the eggplant without drowning it in a bath of oil, if that is your concern. Older eggplant can be bitter, too. 

Instead of sweating eggplant with salt to avoid bitterness, give your eggplant a squeeze before you buy it. Fresh eggplant should not be bitter. It should feel firm and the skin should be taut and smooth. You can be a bit more freewheeling with this casserole than some other recipes. 

Want more than 4 servings? Just buy more eggplant and make more stacks with more sauce and cheese.  It freezes well, too, nice to have around when you want to take a day off. At the beach.

Fresh tomato sauce

Makes about 6 1/2 cups

5 pounds plum (Roma) tomatoes

3 tablespoons olive oil

4 cloves, garlic, finely chopped

Salt and pepper, to taste

12 basil leaves, torn in small pieces

1. Bring a kettle of water to a boil. Set a large bowl and a colander side by side in the sink.

2. Core the tomatoes with a paring knife and cut a small, shallow cross at the tip of each one.

3. Working with half the tomatoes at a time, place them in the bowl in the sink and cover with boiling water. Let stand for 20 to 40 seconds, or until the tomato skins pull easily away from the tomatoes. The riper the tomatoes, the less time this will take.

4.With a slotted spoon, transfer the tomatoes to the colander to cool slightly. Discard the water in the bowl. Repeat with remaining tomatoes and more boiling water.

5. Pull off and discard the tomato skins. Cut tomatoes in half crosswise. Gently squeeze each half over an empty bowl to pop out the seeds. Discard the seeds. Cut in 2-inch pieces.

6. Slowly heat the olive oil and garlic together in a large pot over medium heat, until the garlic sizzles. Add the tomatoes, salt, and pepper. Cook for 15 minutes, or until the tomatoes are soft.

8. With a potato masher, break up the tomatoes in small pieces. Continue to simmer the sauce over medium-low heat for 15 minutes longer, or until it thickens slightly. Total cooking time is about 30 minutes. Taste for seasoning and add more salt and pepper if you like. Stir in the torn basil leaves.

Stacked eggplant casserole

Serves 4

2 (1 pound each) eggplant, cut in 1/2-inch thick rounds to make 24 slices

About 1/2 cup olive oil

Salt and pepper, to taste

3 cups fresh tomato sauce

1 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese

8 large basil leaves

1/2 pound fresh mozzarella, thickly sliced

1 cup fresh bread crumbs

2 tablespoons chopped parsley

1. Set an oven rack 8 inches from the broiler element and turn on the broiler.

2. Spread the eggplant rounds in one layer on 2 large, rimmed baking sheets. . Use a pastry brush to coat them with oil. Turn them over, and brush the other sides with oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

3. Broil the eggplant for 4 minutes on each side, turning with tongs, until golden and cooked through. Cool briefly.

4. Decrease oven heat to 400 degrees.

5. Spread 1/2 cup tomato sauce over the bottom of a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Using the largest slices first, set 8 slices over the bottom of the pan. Spread each slice with a tablespoon of tomato sauce and sprinkle with a tablespoon of Parmesan.

6. Top each eggplant round with a second slice. Spread with a tablespoon of tomato sauce. Top with a basil leaf and a slice of mozzarella. Cover with remaining eggplant slices. Spoon 1/4 cup of tomato sauce over each stack.

7. Combine the breadcrumbs with the remaining Parmesan, parsley and 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Top each stack with about 2 tablespoons of the crumbs.

8. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until hot all the way through and golden brown on top. Serve 2 stacks per person and spoon the sauce around them.

KITCHEN SONGS:

Michael Franks:Eggplant

Betwixt and between: a tomato soup to span the seasons

Standing at the farmers’ market the other day, I wasn’t sure which way to look. Peaches or pumpkins? Corn or delicata squash? Tomatoes or sweet potatoes? The weather last week was telling me to look back at summer, but the week before? A decided nip in the air.

That’s the thing about change. Barring environmental and personal catastrophes, change rarely happens overnight. Conditions sway back and forth, sometimes too wildly for our comfort, until phew! Everything settles down. For a while.

And then it starts all over again.

The fastest track for learning the lessons of change is to invite a child into your home. I don’t mean for the afternoon, but you know, as a baby. Then watch him grow up and watch yourself swing this way and that to keep up, thinking you’ve nailed it one minute and turning around and realizing, the situation has moved on. Your toddler no longer fusses about getting dressed in the morning because he now refuses to go to preschool. There was a moment of peace and a feeling of accomplishment somewhere in the middle of that. Boy, did you feel like at last you were on top of it. Not.

Nothing is static. We might wish for a Groundhog Day existence because it feels safe and comfortable, but if that’s what we want, why not go sit on a bench in Miami right now and get it over with? Everyone, everyone, has times when they must weather slings and arrows. Everyone endures painful times, times of not knowing. 

During carefree times we forget. Years can go by with few bumps in the road, and then…along comes a recession or who knows what, to make us wring our hands. That’s when we need to pay attention to the little moments: the cup of tea or bowl of warm soup on a chilly afternoon, like sweet little islands in a turbulent sea.

So here we are again, on the cusp of a change in seasons, more straightforward than changes in our internal climate. The question of what to eat is not so hard to solve, whether you look forward or backward this month. Peaches or pumpkins? Or maybe a soup that takes the best of summer into the fall: roasted tomatoes and vegetables, smoothed in a blender, to be eaten hot or cold, depending on your mood or the temperature outside.

This was originally published in the now defunct online Magazine of Yoga.

Roasted tomato and vegetable soup (Serves 4)

Plum (Roma) tomatoes have thicker flesh and fewer seeds than mid-summer round, slicing tomatoes and therefore are not so quite so juicy, easily roasted on a rimmed baking sheet without spilling. Use a baking pan if you find that the tomatoes you have on hand are especially juicy. Roasting concentrates all the good veggie flavors; adding water to thin the soup should not dilute them. If you happen to have a little white wine around the house, use it for a little extra oomph; the alcohol evaporates in cooking. If you prefer, leave it out.

3 to 4 tablespoons olive oil

3 pounds plum tomatoes (about 14 to 16)

2 garlic cloves

2 stalks celery, cut in 2-inch pieces

2 carrots, peeled and cut in 2-inch pieces

1/2 medium onion, thickly sliced

1 red pepper, cored, seeded and cut in 2-inch pieces

Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

1/4 cup white wine, optional

Snipped chives, for garnish

1. Heat the oven to 450°F. Lightly oil the bottom of 2 rimmed baking sheets.

2. Core the tomatoes, and halve them lengthwise. With your fingers, scoop out and discard the seeds. Trim the root ends from the garlic cloves and lightly smash them with the flat of a knife to break the husks. Leave the husks on.

3. Place the tomatoes in one layer on a baking sheet with the cut side down. Place the celery, carrots, red pepper, onion and garlic in one layer on another baking sheet. Sprinkle the vegetables with salt and pepper, and drizzle with a little olive oil. Roast the tomatoes and vegetables for 20 minutes. Rotate the pans, moving the top pan to the lower shelf and the bottom pan to the upper shelf. Continue to roast for 15 to 20 minutes more (about 35 minutes total), or until the vegetables are soft and the tomato skins are loose and wrinkled. If the tomatoes are slightly charred, so much the better for flavor.

4. Remove the pans from the oven and let rest until the tomatoes are no longer hot, about 10 minutes. Slip off and discard the tomato skins. Remove the husks from the garlic cloves.

5. Puree the vegetables in a blender with 1 cup water, until smooth. Be sure to scrape all the juices from the bottom of the baking sheets into the blender. Pour the puree into a soup pot. Season the soup with salt and pepper, and stir in the wine. Add enough water to thin it to the consistency of heavy cream, about 1 cup, depending on the juiciness of the tomatoes. Simmer the soup for 10 minutes. Season with more salt and pepper if you like. Serve hot or cold.

Note: I like mine with a little cream (naturally). Add a spoonful of heavy cream on top to make it look pretty.

Posted on October 8, 2011 and filed under Fall recipes, Soups, Summer food, Vegetarian.