Central Virginians are so blessed to have a plethora of farmers’ markets throughout Richmond and the surrounding counties. These ventures remind us of the importance of local agriculture to our economy, while affording everyone an abundance of just-picked fruits and vegetables.
Once you bring home your bounty, you’ll want to use it as quickly as possible to maintain freshness. And you’ll probably want to find some new ways to incorporate fresh produce into daily menus so that you’re not just serving salad after salad (not that there’s anything wrong with that!). To help provide variety at the dinner table, here’s a quartet of recipes that capitalize on the healthy goodness of our local produce.
Long before it was a famous Pixar movie, ratatouille (pronounced rah-tah-too-wee) was admired as a specialty from the Provence region of France that embodies the zesty flavors of the Mediterranean. It can be served hot, cold or at room temperature, and you’re welcome to alter the amounts of each ingredient according to personal tastes.
3 tablespoons olive oil
4 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tablespoon finely chopped shallots
3 green bell peppers, seeded and sliced
1 large sweet onion, sliced
1 eggplant, cut in 1-inch cubes (do not peel)
1 small zucchini, cut in 1-inch cubes
6 tomatoes, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 (6 ounce) can tomato paste
Salt and pepper to taste
Pinch of cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons finely chopped parsley
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet and add the garlic, shallots and green pepper. Cook over medium-low heat for five minutes. Add the sliced onion and cook, stirring, for three more minutes. Add the remaining ingredients, mixing well. Cover and cook over low heat for 1 hour, or until eggplant and zucchini are tender and mixture is thick. Stir occasionally during cooking time, and correct seasonings to taste. If not serving right away, refrigerate the mixture, covered, until serving. It will keep for several days in the refrigerator and can be reheated as desired. Serves 4 to 6.
PASTA WITH CHERRY TOMATOES AND ARUGULA
Arugula is a dark green salad leaf that has become increasingly popular around these parts. Its distinctive peppery flavor partners nicely with the slightly sweet cherry tomatoes in this meatless entree. Choose a small pasta such as orecchiette (“little ears”) or farfalle (bow ties).
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
3 garlic cloves, smashed
12 ounces dry pasta
1 ½ pints cherry tomatoes, halved
2 cups arugula
Salt and pepper to taste
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
Heat 3 tablespoons of oil on medium-low in a large skillet. Add the garlic, and cook on lowest heat for 10 minutes, or until the oil is fragrant. Do not allow garlic to brown. Meanwhile, bring a large kettle of salted water to boiling. Add the pasta, and cook for 10 minutes, or until pasta is al dente. Add the tomatoes to the oil in the skillet, and increase the heat to medium-high until tomatoes start to shrivel. Reduce heat to low, and cook another 5 minutes. Drain the pasta, reserving ½ cup of the cooking water. Add the pasta to the tomatoes, stirring until well blended. Add a little bit of the reserved pasta water if needed. Fold in the arugula and the remaining tablespoon of oil. Cook just until arugula is wilted, and remove from the heat. Season with salt and pepper and sprinkle with cheese. Serves 4.
FIRE AND ICE TOMATOES
One way to savor the matchless flavor of Hanover tomatoes is in this easy, fat-free condiment, which goes especially well with any barbecue.
¾ cup cider vinegar
1 ½ teaspoons celery salt
4 ½ teaspoons sugar
1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
6 tomatoes, quartered
1 green pepper, seeded and sliced
1 red onion, thinly sliced
1 cucumber, sliced
Several hours before serving, combine the first 5 ingredients in a stainless steel or enamel saucepan and bring to boiling. Place the tomatoes, green pepper and onion in a medium bowl, and pour the vinegar mixture on top. Let cool to room temperature and then refrigerate for several hours. Add the cucumber at serving time. Makes about 6 cups.
BAKED SQUASH CASSEROLE
Yellow summer squash is almost as prolific as zucchini — and just as versatile. Here is a classic southern-style side dish that will win kudos all around.
5 pounds yellow summer squash
3 tablespoons melted butter
1 cup fresh bread crumbs
¼ cup sugar
¼ cup finely chopped onion
Black pepper to taste
Wash the squash and cut off the tips. Cut each squash into 3 or 4 pieces. Place in a large kettle with water to cover, and boil until tender. Drain well, transfer to a large bowl, and mash lightly. The texture should be slightly lumpy, Add the remaining ingredients, and mix well. Spoon into a a spray-coated 1 ½-quart casserole and bake, uncovered, in a 350-degree oven for 25 minutes. Serves 8 to 10.