Squash and Corn Casserole

I am not an incredibly talented gardener. I am not even a slightly adequate gardener, if I am being honest. I can grow the basics. The plants that require zero skill and minimal care. You know….no fertilizer. No plant food. No weeding. Spotty watering, at best.
This time of year, I find myself up to my armpits in these hearty, idiot-proof vegetables. Yellow squash seems to be a particularly prolific survivor of my substandard horticultural skills. A couple of years ago, I went on a quest for a squash recipe that did not involve copious amounts of cornmeal and a dip in the fryer. (I LOVE me some fried squash, but it does not love me back.) I tried numerous recipes, using my children and partner as my taste testers. Most of the recipes received reviews that included some variation of the following adjectives:
Bland
Tasteless
Soggy
Slimy
Icky
Gross
Blech! (This is more of an expletive than an adjective, but you get the point…)

I finally, with dogged determination and a little Kentucky conviction, found a recipe that the entire family could enjoy.  (Okay…that is a wee bit of a tiny white lie. My oldest son, Lucas, “enjoys” no food that actually grows from the Earth. He only truly enjoys highly processed foods that come in colors not found in nature, but he is the exception to most rules.)
Squash & Corn Casserole

2 eggs                                                                          
1 can cream corn                                                        
1/4 c. grated parmesan cheese                                    
1/4 c. vegetable oil                                                         
1 Tbsp sugar                                                                     
1/4 tsp minced garlic  
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/4 c. chopped onion
2 c. thin-sliced yellow squash
1/ 2 c. Bisquick

Instructions:                                                               

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 9x9 baking dish. Whisk the eggs in a large bowl until smooth. Stir in the corn, parmesan cheese, oil, sugar, garlic and pepper. Fold in the onions, squash and Bisquick. Pour the mix into the prepared pan. Bake until bubbly and light brown, 30 to 40 minutes.

Hopefully, your family will enjoy this recipe. May your expletives all be positive!

Wendell Berry on Gardening

Although I haven't found the time to plant my own garden, this year I signed up for a small share of a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) through Elmwood Stock Farm (Georgetown, Kentucky).  It is so nice to experience the natural rhythms of the season through the food we eat; it makes you feel more connected to both time and place.  

I love this Wendell Berry quotation about gardening and look forward to the day when I can grow my own food for our family to enjoy.  In the meantime, I love supporting local agriculture.  What's growing in your garden?


Easy Tomato Recipes

Kentucky's tomato crops are finally here! 

Now, if you're like me, you're thrilled to have all those farm-fresh tomatoes, but you're always looking for new ways to use them. I'm fortunate enough to have family with serious vegetable gardens, so I have access to all the tomatoes I could possibly use. I certainly try to cram a year's worth of high-level lycopene benefits into the weeks of the tomato harvest! My go-to-recipes are Caprese salad, gazpacho and salsa.

 Caprese Salad is so easy, fresh, and delicious that you don't even need a recipe. Tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, and even fresher basil garnished with a little salt and pepper and some olive oil and balsamic vinegar. This year, I plan to get a little fancier, and make individual Caprese bites by slicing cherry tomatoes and stuffing with a mozzarella pearl and a basil leaf. The key to a good Caprese is great basil -- my basil hasn't been thriving this year, so I'm a little concerned about how my Caprese will turn out. 

Gazpacho is only worth eating when the tomatoes are fresh. I start with about twenty medium tomatoes; it's nice to add in a couple of different varietals here, for depth of flavor. I juice about half of the tomatoes, straining out all of the pulp and seeds. The others are submerged in boiling water for about 20 seconds, then peeled and pureed in the food processor. I then peel and dice a couple of cucumbers, a few garlic cloves, and about half a red onion and puree them in the food processor. I combine all this with a drizzle of olive oil and a couple spoonfuls of red wine vinegar, then season with some kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper. I chill the soup for an hour or so and garnish with fresh basil. 

As for salsa, I'm trying desperately to find a great recipe. I kind of throw tomatoes, peppers, onions, lime juice and cilantro together when serving fresh salsa, but really want to hone my recipe. I've made a few stabs at canning salsa, but it just freaks me out. I'm a little afraid of canning, and all of the recipes I've found are emphatic about keeping acid contents at a certain percentage for stability of preservation. And, I don't like the flavor that boiling the cans lends to the tomatoes. All the awesome freshness is gone! I hope to work on my salsa again this year; I really love the idea of opening a can of homemade salsa without having to worry about all the preservatives and salt. In fact, I'd love to do the same with marinara. 

 This year, I hope to add tomato pie to the repertoire. What's your favorite tomato recipe?

Summer Vegetables

Garden-fresh vegetables are the quintessential summer food. You can keep your barbecue, your ice cream, or your picnic fare. Where I come from, it's not summer without fresh green beans, corn and tomatoes.

Now, a few years back, a best-selling book was based on the premise that you shouldn't eat anything that your grandmother wouldn't recognize. The rest of the year, I can't get enough sushi or Indian food. I slavishly replicate the signature French dishes that made Julia and Ina famous, and I've developed a bit of a specialty in making Cajun dishes. But, in the summer, I find myself cooking the exact same simple country meals that my grandmother has always made, using the very same varietals that she's been growing for six decades or so. Fried chicken, white half runner green beans and silver queen corn, with a crudité plate of cucumbers, beefy red tomatoes and green onions. You don't question it. You just serve it.

Growing up in a small Eastern Kentucky town, I just assumed that everyone had access to garden vegetables all summer long. My grandparents had a huge, bountiful garden. We're talking "rent a mule to plow it" huge. My uncle now plants a similar garden every year, providing us all with more vegetables than we could possibly eat, can, or freeze. I guess I'll always be a country girl at heart; I take for granted that, no matter where I live, this summer harvest will be available. I laughingly refer to my family as my own personal CSA because it seems that, all summer long, somebody is always bringing me more veggies than I could ever use. A few years ago, I memorably asked my grandmother to send me a few tomatoes. The following weekend, she sent my parents to Lexington with seventy-six!

Food, summer, and small-town life will always be interconnected for me because of my family's commitment to gardening. My grandmother, the queen of the subtle nuances between varietals, has a network of friends from whom she purchases certain vegetables that we can't quite get to grow or which we need in mass quantities for preserving purposes. Growing up, I thought that everybody had a "corn man"; ours is named Maurice. (Our "raspberry lady", who recently passed away, was named Dottie.) It was a fascinating little microcosm to observe -- my granny and her friends had been trading for so long that they no longer even had to ask questions or call ahead, they just showed up when they had a crop to sell. It was a dramatic representation of the "grandmother foods" foodie manifesto, and a powerful lesson in community.

These days, I find that my hometown is starting to show signs of the foodie-fication that has swept America in recent years. A recent trip to the Prestonsburg Food City yielded Voss Water (in the coveted glass bottles, no less!) and organic quinoa. (Try to say that in a thick Appalachian accent. I dare you!) The same day, I even found Arencita Rossa at the Wal-Mart. Now, I'll never complain about this kind of diversity, since I never met a pretentious food I didn't like. I found it far odder, though, when I saw a sign for the Floyd County Farmers' Market. We've always had roadside produce stands, but never something this centralized. It's definitely more yuppie and "citified" than we could have imagined even a decade ago. You may see farmers' markets all over cities like Lexington or Louisville, but it seemed somehow out of step in a small rural town. While it's a far cry from the house calls that Maurice makes, it's simply a new way of keeping "grandmother foods" and the farming community alive.

Ultimately, though, it doesn't matter if you're serving your green beans with quinoa or cornbread. It's largely immaterial if you grow your crops yourself, buy them from your corn man, or visit your local farmers' market. Your tomatoes can be a straightforward red fruit or a pricey, multicolored heirloom, and your corn can be the even hue of Silver Queen or the mixed kernels of Peaches and Cream. Farm-fresh Kentucky vegetables will always be the taste of summer.