My Favorite Gazpacho

I returned from a week-long trip to find my vegetable garden laden with tomatoes, cucumbers, string beans, green bell peppers, and okra. I brought all the produce inside, dumped it on the kitchen counter and tried to get inspired to clean and prep all of it; I knew once I got started, I’d be in the kitchen for the rest of the day … A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

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Abundant summer harvests call for big recipes, and I have three go-to’s: ratatouille, gazpacho, and marinara sauce. Since there were no eggplants or zucchini, ratatouille was out. Gazpacho and marinara sauce were in. I made both!

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My tried and true gazpacho recipe comes from Open-House Cookbook, by Sarah Leah Chase, published in 1987 to instant acclaim. Over the years, I have found my own way to streamline the vegetable prep work, and, thanks to my mother, who also made this recipe and used Bloody Mary mix to spice it up, I use spicy vegetable juice instead of plain.

Ingredients:
Makes 6 quarts

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2 cups of freshly made breadcrumbs made from crusty bread
1-ounce garlic cloves, about 3-5 cloves depending on size
Juice of one lemon, about 3 tablespoons
2 bunches green onions
3  8 inch cucumbers
5 sweet bell peppers in different colors (I like to use green, yellow and orange)
8 pounds of tomatoes, about 10 large
46 ounces spicy vegetable juice
4 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
5 tablespoons extra virgin, first cold-pressed, olive oil
4 teaspoons sea salt
1½ teaspoons freshly ground pepper, add more as desired

Instructions:
In the instructions that follow, I’m going to show you how to prep each vegetable. Find a large bowl that will hold 8 quarts of chopped vegetables.

1) Prep Bread, Garlic, and Lemon Juice Mixture: 
-Make 2 cups of homemade breadcrumbs using the method described in Mom’s Meatloaf. Five or six slices of crusty bread should suffice.
-Juice the lemon as shown in the Ricotta and Lemon Cookie recipe.
-Peel the garlic cloves. I used three large cloves. If you are using medium to small cloves, you’ll need all five.  Always remember that uncooked garlic can quickly overpower a recipe, so be careful — you can always add more garlic to your recipe later as you adjust your spices.

Pulse garlic cloves in food processor until minced, add the breadcrumbs and lemon juice. You want the mixture to become pasty, so process it for about 10 seconds.

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2) Prep green onions:
Wash, cut roots off and trim off the top third of stems. Chop stems into 2-inch segments so they will fit nicely into the food processor bowl. If you put produce in the processing bowl uncut, they won’t chop evenly, and you’ll find yourself practically puréeing food to get everything chopped to a consistent size. Pulse green onions until they look like the photo below and then add to your large container.

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3) Prep Cucumbers:
Cut off ends and peel. Cut into long quarters. I always taste a homegrown cucumber before adding it to a recipe because sometimes, if the cucumber went through a dry spell while growing, it can taste bitter. If the cucumber tastes at all bitter, throw it in the compost. Remove seeds by quartering and using a paring knife to remove the “triangle” tip of seeds from each strip. Chop into 2-inch chunks before processing. Once processed, add to large container.

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4) Prep Sweet Bell Peppers:
I had a lot of small green peppers in my garden and used them, plus two colorful peppers I bought at the grocery store. To prep peppers: cut in half vertically, and remove core, seeds, and extra white pith. Chop into 2-inch chunks for even processing in the food processor. Add to the large container.

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5) How to Seed and Prep Tomatoes:
Over the years, I have learned there is no reason to peel the skin off tomatoes. I do, however, remove the seeds. This is easily accomplished by cutting the tomato in half horizontally and using your finger to scoop the seeds out.

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Use a paring knife to remove the stem and white core. Cut into 2″ chunks to process evenly. Pulse in batches. Add to the large container. If you are using homegrown tomatoes, don’t use any that have been pecked by birds or otherwise have skin that is not intact. Save imperfect tomatoes for cooking.  Tomatoes with white mold, ooze, or that have been partially eaten by squirrels go in the compost! (That last sentence is for my husband.)

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Photos of the bowl as it filled up …

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Food, Glorious Food!

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6) Add Vegetable Juice and Seasonings
Add the spicy vegetable juice, the vinegar, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Adjust seasoning.
Me, to my husband: “Try this and tell me what it needs.”
Husband: “It needs a spoon and a bowl!”DSC_0011

Much later that day, after making marinara sauce and blanched string beans in vinaigrette, the kitchen was clean. All that remained was a pile of cucumbers that were going to be made into cold cucumber soup, but I ran out of steam, and my family had lost interest in cleaning up after me. Oh, and the okra, it went into the latest version of my “everything, but the kitchen sink” Shepherd’s Pie.

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Follow my photos of vegetables growing, backyard chickens hanging out, and dinner preparations on Instagram at JudysChickens.

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© 2014-2017 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos and text may only be used with written consent.

Roasted Ratatouille

Last week, I was getting ready to leave town which meant I had to harvest all the ripe vegetables from my garden. Once I had washed and laid them all out to dry there was no question what dish I was going to make; these vegetables pretty much told me I was making ratatouille. What else would I do with onions, eggplant, zucchini, sweet peppers, and tomatoes? These are classic ratatouille fare.

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Many villages in the Mediterranean have some version of this “vegetable stew,” but it was Julia Child, who, in her 1961 cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, made ratatouille a household name. If you are a purist, you may want to stop reading here as I no longer make ratatouille using the methods that Julia made famous.  I don’t peel and remove the seeds from the tomatoes, sweat the eggplants and zucchini and then sauté them each separately, and then, layer them all together in a casserole to stew for a while. Her process took too much time. The way I chop, mix, and roast it all together, is much quicker and more reflective of today’s farm to table mentality. I think Julia would approve.

Since I had a lot to do before leaving town, I was in get’ er done mode and was happy to work by myself in the kitchen. My family was watching a Nicole Kidman movie in the next room and I smiled as I listened to them tease my husband about his long-standing crush on Nicole, an infatuation that makes no sense to me; she is like a porcelain doll and I am not. My family knows my husband would secretly love to run into Nicole in Nashville. Once, my youngest son even texted him, “Quick, come to Whole Foods. I’m sitting next to Nicole and Keith.” To my husband’s credit, and since he was sitting with me, he didn’t budge.

Here is my no fuss way to make ratatouille. The ingredient amounts are vague because it truly doesn’t matter. I suggest looking at the picture above and approximating the quantities from that.

Yield: About 4 quarts

Ingredients:

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Onions – I used one bunch of green onions and a medium-sized red onion
Eggplants – I used a mix of Black Beauty and Ichiban varieties.
Zucchini – I used 4 thick ones.
2 large Sweet Bell Peppers
Tomatoes – I used an assortment of regular and cherry-sized.
Basil – I used 4 ten-inch bushy stalks.
Garlic – I used 2 heaping tablespoons of minced garlic from the jar.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil, about 1/2 cup, maybe even a little more
Salt and Pepper, to taste

Instructions:

I prepped all the vegetables as I went along. Refer to the pictures that follow to see how. I placed them in a 13 x 16 inch Calphalon roasting pan that’s about 4 inches deep. The order of layering doesn’t matter as they will all be stirred together before going into the oven.

Zucchini: leave the skin on and slice.

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Sweet Bell Peppers: remove core and seeds, chop into 1.5-inch dice.DSC_0605

Green Onions: slice the white part into 1/2 slices, and the green stalks into 1-inch pieces.

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Eggplant: remove ends, peel, and slice.

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Tomatoes: remove the stem and white core, and chop as shown. No need to peel or remove seeds.

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Prep basil: remove leaves from stems and chop. Add to roasting pan.DSC_0293  DSC_0633

Mix it all up. Add olive oil, garlic, salt and pepper. I am usually generous with the olive oil. I learned that from my mother.

Roast at 400º for 40 minutes to an hour depending on the volume of vegetables used.

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To Serve:
I’ll put just about any roasted vegetable over pasta and the ratatouille was no exception. It was delicious. Be sure to sprinkle with Reggiano Parmesan.

I had about 2½ quarts of leftovers that went into the fridge. My husband served it over orzo as a side dish the next night, and on Saturday morning, he put what was left in his omelette.

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Epilogue: 
My family loved this meal. As we ate dinner, one of my sons said, “Nicole Kidman couldn’t have made this dinner, Mom.”  Thanks, son.

Make it Whole30
Skip the pasta and cheese and serve it as a side dish.

LET’S STAY CONNECTED!

Follow my photos of vegetables growing, backyard chickens hanging out, and dinner preparations on Instagram at JudysChickens.

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© 2014-2017 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos and text may only be used with written consent.

Yummy Shepherd’s Pie

Shepherd’s Pie, also known as Cottage Pie, is a meat and vegetable pie with a potato crust. First mentioned in cookbooks in the UK and Ireland in the 1800s it was a hearty way for farmers to make a meal using leftover meat and potatoes from the field. DSC_0102

It was also a staple of my diet when I was growing up in the 70s. My mother made it all the time. What could be easier, for a young working mother of seven, than sautéing onions and ground beef, adding a few packages of frozen vegetables, with their perfectly square carrots, dimpled, olive-colored peas, and plump corn, and then topping the whole thing off with a layer of instant mashed potatoes? Mom cooked her shepherd’s pie in a white, round, Corningware dish. Her pie looked similar to the one in this photo from Betty Crocker.

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A few months ago, my team of volunteer chefs at The Nashville Food Project was tasked with making shepherd’s pie for 150, but it was not Betty Crocker’s shepherd’s pie. Noooo. This version had fresh, just-picked onions, carrots, chard ribs, garlic, and herbs. It turned out so well, I now make it regularly for my family often using vegetables from my backyard garden.

A word about ingredients: as long as you use onions, peppers, carrots, celery and garlic as your base, you can add other vegetables to change up the flavor. I added okra this time, and it was delicious. I have also been known to throw in a lone zucchini, eggplant, beet, or a few radishes from the fridge. They all work. Sometimes, I even add a few turnips to the mashed potatoes, and that works well, too.

Ingredients:
Yield: serves 4

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Mashed  Potato Topping:
1¾ pounds potatoes, scrubbed and unpeeled
2 tablespoons butter
¼ cup milk
1 teaspoon salt

Vegetable Filling:
¼ cup olive oil
1 medium onion (5 ounces), peeled
1 large carrot (4 ounces), scrubbed, unpeeled,
2 large stalks of celery, or 6-8 thin ribs of chard
6 okra pods (optional)
1 sweet red pepper, seeded
2 tablespoons minced garlic (I used garlic from a jar)
salt and pepper, to taste

Meat Filling:
1-1/3 pounds of ground meat: beef, pork, veal, lamb, or venison
salt and pepper, to taste
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 long sprig rosemary, leaves snipped and chopped
4 sprigs thyme, leaves snipped
5 sprigs parsley, leaves snipped and chopped

Instructions:
Preheat oven to 350º.
One 9-inch square or round pan, or ceramic casserole dish.

To cook the potatoes for the mashed potato topping:
Scrub the potatoes, chop them into 2-inch chunks and add to a pot of cold water. Bring to a boil and simmer for 10-15 minutes. Set a timer so you don’t forget about them while you are busy sautéing the meat and vegetables. After 10 minutes of boiling, insert a fork into a potato to test for doneness. If the potato chunk is too firm, cook for 5 more minutes. Do not over cook. You do not want the potatoes to get waterlogged. You’ll know if they are waterlogged because the potato will fall apart when you test it with the fork. If that happens, drain well and still use them, but next time, cook the potatoes for a little less time.

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To prep the vegetables for the food processor:
-Onions: peel the outer skin and quarter.
-Carrots: scrub the skin and chop into 3-inch chunks.
-Sweet Red Pepper: remove the stem, core, and seeds and chop into 3-inch chunks.
-Celery or Chard ribs: I didn’t have celery, so I picked a few stalks of rainbow chard from my vegetable garden. Chard ribs are an excellent substitute for celery. To prep the ribs, chop off the leaves and cut stalks into 4-inch segments.
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Okra: I’m growing a new variety of okra that is red. I have eight plants so I only get to pick about 5 small pods a day. I often store them in the fridge until I have picked enough tor a meal. One nice quality about red okra is that the longer pods are tender enough to eat, unlike green okra where a long pod is often too fibrous to cook. To prep okra: cut off the stem and chop into 3-inch segments.
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To process the vegetables:
Take all the vegetables, except for the herbs, and “pulse” them together in a food processor. Do not purée. You can also chop by hand with a knife.

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To sauté the vegetables and meat:
Add olive oil to a 12-inch sauté pan. Add chopped vegetables, garlic, salt, and pepper to pan. Sauté on medium heat for about 10 minutes until vegetables are translucent. Do not brown. Set aside.

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In another pan, add ground meat, garlic, salt, pepper, and herbs. Sauté for 5-10 minutes until meat is cooked but not browned. Drain fat.

To make the mashed potato topping:
While the meat filling is cooking, test your potatoes. If tender, remove from heat and drain in a colander reserving about ½ cup of the potato water. Since the food processor is already dirty, I purée my mashed potatoes in it.  Add hot potatoes, milk, butter, and salt to the food processor bowl. Process just until blended. If the mashed potatoes are too pasty, add the reserved potato water and pulse a little longer.

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To assemble:
Pour vegetables and meat into a baking dish. Spread the mashed potatoes over the filling with a spatula.

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Bake for 20-30 minutes. The pie is done when the peaks on the potatoes are lightly browned. In the two pictures below, you can see the difference between the time I drained the fat and the time I didn’t.  The browned edges around the pie on the right are from the fat that bubbled up during baking. Ugh. To avoid that, drain the meat before adding the potatoes.

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In the future, I’m going to try making this with mashed sweet potatoes and use lamb for the ground meat. It would also be fun to try with ground turkey. You could make a cauliflower purée instead of the mashed potatoes, and that would taste great, too. Start playing around with ingredients and see what happens. Like my recipe for frittatas, you never know what you will end up with when you start deviating from a recipe, but it’s fun to improvise with different fresh vegetables. The more you cook, the better you will become at experimenting and putting your special touches on a recipe.

Make it Whole30
Eliminate butter and milk in the mashed potatoes. Substitute 2 tablespoons of olive oil for the butter. My friend Libba suggested substituting a ¼ cup of broth for the milk. The extra liquid helped to fluff up the potatoes.

Make it for company: double the recipe (Serves 8-12)
We’ve been making this recipe a lot for big family dinners. Here is my husband managing all three pans on the stove top: vegetables, meat, and potatoes.

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I layered all the ingredients in a deep 9 x 13 lasagna pan.DSC_0081

New vegetables we’ve tried:
I’ve now learned I can pretty much add any vegetable to the mix. This time, we used leeks, a small onion, unpeeled eggplants, an assortment of cherry tomatoes, a sweet red bell pepper, okra, celery, and carrots. In other words, everything in the vegetable drawer of the fridge.

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Bonus: everyone was in the kitchen helping to prep the colorful veggies. When that happens I get all verklempt.

More comfort food:
Judy’s Mom’s Meatloaf
Chicken Cacciatore, Pollo alla Cacciatora, or Hunter’s Chicken
50 Ways to Make a Frittata
Fresh Marinara Sauce with Pasta and Mozzarella

LET’S STAY CONNECTED!

Follow my photos of vegetables growing, backyard chickens hanging out, and dinner preparations on Instagram at JudysChickens.

Never miss a post: sign up to become a follower of the Blog.

© 2014-2017 Judy Wright. All rights reserved. Photos and text may only be used with written consent.