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Salads

As soon as the tomato season gets into full swing in Provence around the beginning of July, we jump up early on Sunday mornings and head to the nearby village market. First things first: Our Sunday ritual of coffee and croissants on the terrace has to wait until our return. There are many vegetable stalls at the market but for those in the know there is one that hands down wins the tomato gold medal, and you need to get there early to make sure you’re in the running. We often buy 3 or 4 kilos (6-8 pounds) to take care of our tomato addiction – we certainly wouldn’t want to run out during the week.

Aside from gazpacho and simple salads, there are a zillion other ways we use them: In sauces and vegetable tians, in tarts and omelettes, stuffed and sundried, to name just a few. Except for maybe the onion is there any vegetable more useful than the tomato?

Here are a few of our favorite quick-and-easy recipes which I hope will add to your repertoire for those occasions when your palate (or your family) demands a change.

MY COLD TOMATO SOUP

I actually made up this recipe about fifty years ago. It was so well received that I’ve continued to make it every summer and then hand out the recipe to friends who ask for it once they’re tasted it. It does require tomatoes at the peak of perfection so don’t even think about making it with inferior ones.

Serves 4

Ingredients:

4-6 perfectly ripe tomatoes (depending on size, you want to end up with about 4 cups)

1 1/4″ thick slice baked ham (not proscuitto) chopped very finely, about 1/3 of a cup

2 tablespoons finely chopped cucumber

1 tablespoon each chopped basil, parsely and chives (save some for the garnish)

1 teaspoon grated lemon rind

1/3 cup whipping cream or creme fraiche

Salt and pepper

Plunge the tomatoes into boiling water for a minute, drain, rinse in cold water and peel. Chop them up roughly and puree them in the food processor, leaving a bit of texture. Add the rest of the ingredients and pulse a few times to combine, then add salt and pepper to taste. Chill well and serve. This is a wonderfully rich soup.  Don’t leave out the ham – surprisingly, most people think it tastes like crab. 

PERFECT PANZANELLA

Panzanella is not the kitchen sink, as in everything but….Wikipedia, in its definition says “panzanella is generally made of stale bread soaked in water and squeezed dry, tomatoesolive oilvinegarsalt, and pepperOnions and basil are often added.” It goes on to say “other ingredients—lettuceolivesmozarellawhite winecapersanchoviescelerycarrotsred winered onioncucumber,tunaparsleyboiled eggsmintbell pepperslemon juice, and garlic— are sometimes used, but Florentine traditionalists disapprove of them.”

Well, add me to the list of disapprovers.

First of all, it should be made of top flight ingredients – ripe, summer-sweet tomatoes, stale crusty bread (Tuscan unsalted if you happen to live in Tuscany), mild red onion, your very best olive oil and vinegar, salt and pepper and a sprinkling of  fresh basil. That’s it. Well, some chopped cucumber and a little garlic won’t hurt but any of the other ingredients listed above are strictly taboo, at least in our household.  We also don’t like to soak the bread in water as it makes it mushy. Better to add it directly to the bowl with the other ingredients, toss it around and it will absorb the tomato juices, oil, and vinegar while retaining some of its chewiness.

 Serves 4

 Ingredients:

 4-6 ripe tomatoes (about 1-1/2 lbs) cut into bite-size chunks

1/2 a small red onion cut into very thin slices

3 tablespoons best olive oil

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar (or you can use half balsamic, half red wine)

2 tablespoons torn-up basil leaves

2 cups crusty bread, such as sourdough, 1-2 days old, crusts left on, cut into 1″ cubes

Salt and pepper to suit your taste

Put all the ingredients in a large bowl and mix thoroughly until the tomatoes release some of their juices and the bread is no longer dry but still crisp around the edges.   Let sit for 10 minutes and toss again before serving.

Additional suggestions:  If your bread isn’t completely dry, put the cubes in a low oven (150 degrees) for about 10 minutes.  

You can use a Vidalia or other sweet onion or, if your red onion seems sharp, put the slices in a small bowl and just cover it with a mixture of boiling water, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1 teaspoon vinegar and let soak for 10 minutes or so. Drain well. This is a good way to tone down raw onions for any recipe.

UNCOOKED TOMATO SAUCES FOR PASTA

These are two summer pasta dishes where all you have to cook is the pasta.  We love the contrast between the hot pasta and the cold sauce and even if the pasta cools a bit, they are still a summer delight – easy and quick to make with ingredients you probably have on hand. Both recipes are for four but you can obviously increase or decrease quantities easily, depending on whether you’re serving it as a first or main course. Although we prefer lighter pastas such as angel hair or spaghettini for both, you can use whatever pasta you have on hand.

FRESH TOMATOES, BASIL AND CHEVRE 

Serves 4

4-6 ripe tomatoes, cut into large dice (about 1-1/2 lbs.)

2 -3 tablespoons torn basil leaves

1 clove garlic

2 tablespoons of your best olive oil

2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar

Salt and freshly ground pepper

4 oz. soft goat cheese (such as Montrachet) 

12 oz. pasta of your choice

Put the tomatoes and basil in a bowl to which you can add the cooked pasta.  Make a vinaigrette: Pound the garlic clove with a teaspoon of salt in a pestle and mortar (or bowl if you don’t have one). Add the vinegar, olive oil and pepper and stir to combine.  Pour over the tomatoes and mix thoroughly. Soften the goat cheese by whipping it with a fork so that it will melt into the sauce. If it still seems stiff, add a teaspoon of cream or milk.

Cook the pasta in salted water according to the package directions, drain well and stir it into the tomatoes.  Serve immediately with a dollop or two of chevre crowning each serving.  

If you don’t happen to have chevre on hand, this dish is still wonderfully simple and satisfying without it.

FRESH PUTTANESCA

You’ve probably seen recipes for spaghetti alla puttanesca or “whore’s spaghetti.” There is always a lengthy discussion on the origins of the dish and why and when the whores of Naples made it. It actually dates from the mid-20th century, but who cares? Enough to say that they got it right – it’s a lusty, warming dish for a cold winter night. But the ingredients are so invitingly earthy that I thought why not put them together without cooking them so that the dish could be enjoyed when tomatoes are at their peak? Needless to say, I was not the first person to have this insight.

Serves 4

Ingredients:

4-6 ripe tomatoes, cut into smallish dice (about 1-1/2 pounds)

1 large garlic clove, finely chopped

4-6 anchovy filets, drained and finely chopped

8-10 black olives, such as Kalamata, pitted and coarsely chopped

1 tablespoon drained capers

1 tablespoon chopped flat-leaf parsley

1/2 teaspoon dried hot pepper flakes (or more, if you like things really spicy)

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

3 tablespoons olive oil

12 oz. pasta of your choice

Mix all the ingredients in a bowl large enough to accommodate them and the pasta.  Cook the pasta in salted water according to the package directions.  Drain well and add to the bowl, tossing  to coat with the sauce.  Check for salt – you won’t need pepper. Serve immediately.

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I’ve been chomping at the bit to write this blog for some time, but had to restrain myself until summer actually arrived. These are our favorite salads that we make over and over again – for picnics, for lunches on the terrace, and for cold suppers anywhere. Aside from being really delectable, they are ALL very easy to make — you won’t spend hours in the kitchen “dragging your tits over a hot stove”, as our friend Charles used to say.

These are not composed salads which can serve as an entire meal, but rather are meant to be part of a team for a picnic or buffet. While these four go together, any one of them would be happy with other players you might prefer to select.

Tuscan Bean Salad

This is my version of the famous tuna and white bean salad. Couldn’t be simpler, and the flavors are not muddied by unnecessary additions like olives and sundried tomatoes which, in my opinion, don’t improve it at all. It’s wonderful to take on a picnic, kids love it, and if by some remote chance you have leftovers, it can be trotted out a second or even a third time.

Serves 4

Ingredients:

 2 cans of your best cannelini beans, rinsed and well drained

1 can of tuna (see below)

2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley

2 tablespoons chopped red onion

Dressing:

1 clove garlic

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 teaspoon each lemon juice and red wine vinegar

Salt and pepper

I like to use the best canned tuna I can find – usually bottles of albacore packed in olive oil from Spain or Italy – but the salad will still be good even if you choose to use any-old-tuna packed in water. Make the dressing: Crush the garlic with a half-teaspoon of salt, add the oil, lemon juice, vinegar and pepper, stir well to blend.  Put the beans, parsley and onion in a serving bowl and add the dressing.  Drain the tuna, flake it, mix half of it into the beans and decorate the top with the rest of it. Taste to make sure the seasoning is right. 

Squid and Tomato Salad

This is a Richard Olney recipe from his Provence the Beautiful Cookbook.  Provided you have squid on hand, it’s a snap to make. Usually I use frozen squid, readily available in France and at Trader Joe’s in the U.S., but you can of course use fresh. Small squid remain meltingly tender if you cut them into rings and cook them over high heat for no more than a minute. Overcooked, they toughen and you end up with rubber bands.  I usually thaw the squid about halfway, cut it into 1/4 inch rings and then let it completely thaw in a colander.

Serves 4

Ingredients: 

2  ripe tomatoes cut into fairly large dice

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 lb. small squid, 3-4″ long, cleaned and cut crosswise into rings

1 tablespoon chopped parsley and/or basil

Salt and pepper

For the vinaigrette:

1 small garlic clove

Pinch of coarse salt

1-2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar

1-2 tablespoon olive oil

Pepper

Put the chopped tomatoes into a strainer to drain for 20-30 minutes.

Heat the olive oil over high heat in a pan large enough to accommodate the squid in a single layer.  Pat the squid dry, throw them in the pan, and stir fry them over high heat for no more than a minute or until they have released their liquid and turned opaque. Scoop them into a salad bowl, adding salt and pepper to taste.  Reduce the liquid in the pan to a teaspoon or two.

Make the vinaigrette: Pound the garlic and salt to a paste (preferably in a mortar), add 1 teaspoon vinegar, one tablespoon oil and the reduced squid liquid.

Mix the drained tomatoes with the squid along with the chopped parsely and/or basil.  Pour over the dressing, toss well, add some pepper and check the seasoning. You may want to add the rest of the vinegar and oil.  It’s best if you can serve it immediately as the warm squid and the cold tomatoes make a lovely contrast.  However, it’s still certainly worth making if you need to save it for later.  It’s also delicious with pasta.  

Greek Beans

If you go into the kitchen of any simple taverna in Greece you are likely to find a pot of these green beans simmering gently on the stove.  I first encountered them almost fifty years ago and have been cooking them ever since, although I have recently changed how I make them.  Greeks simmer the tomatoes and beans together until the beans are tender which can take 40-50 minutes, but I have found that cooking the beans halfway first and adding them to the tomato mixture for a shorter cooking time works just as well. And the beans keep their color instead of turning a rather sinister  shade of green. They also usually start the dish with sauteed onions, but I prefer it with just olive oil, tomatoes, garlic, herbs – and of course the beans. I like to use young runner beans for this dish but any good quality green beans will be fine.

Serves 4

Ingredients:

1- 2 tablespoons olive oil

3-4 medium tomatoes, peeled and chopped, or 1-14 oz. can

2 cloves garlic, chopped

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

Salt and pepper

1 tablespoon chopped parsley 

1 lb. runner beans, or use any best-quality green beans

Heat one tablespoon olive oil over low heat.  Add the tomatoes, garlic, oregano, salt and pepper to the pan and cook

slowly for about 10 minutes until you have a nice thick tomato sauce.

Meanwhile, top and tail the beans and cut them into about 1″ pieces.  Depending on how young and fresh they are,

cook them (uncovered) in boiling water for about 5 minutes.  They should still be crunchy.  Drain them and add them

to the tomato mixture and continue to cook, uncovered, about 10-15 minutes.  Check the seasoning and stir in the parsley and a little more olive oil.  At this stage you can add some chopped dill, basil or mint if you choose (not all 3).  I like these beans best warm but they are also good hot or cold.  And they last for several days in the refrigerator.

Jamie Oliver’s Watermelon Salad

This is a great hot weather dish – crisp watermelon and salty feta zapped with mint, lime and olive oil. Many variations have shown up on the Internet that add all sorts of unnecessary ingredients. More is not always merrier.  As with the all these recipes, I believe that keeping things simple and letting the chosen flavors shine through usually produces the best results. So I just go with Jamie’s original.

Serves 4

Ingredients:

4 cups watermelon, seeded, and cut into cubes

1 cup feta cheese, crumbled

2 tablespoons chopped mint leaves

1 tablespoon olive oil

The juice of a lime or lemon

Freshly ground pepper

Mix all the ingredients together gently in a serving bowl.  What could be easier?

Note: I have somewhat arbitrarily said that the four recipes above each serve four. This would very much depend on whether you serve all four at once, and whether you add other bits and pieces to your “buffet” or picnic.  Any two of them would probably serve four not-too-greedy people.

Even though there’s a wide variety of salad greens available year round, it’s not always easy to come up with salad ideas in the winter that are robust enough to suit the season.  Here are three that I hope pique your interest.

As I was making both the lentil salad and the Moroccan orange salad, I was torn about what garnishes to add.  The lentil salad is delicious without beets and feta, particularly if you’re serving it with an entree like chicken or pork or salmon. It’s also good with a garnish of crisp bacon or rounds of sausage.  There are many versions of the orange salad – some sweet, some savory, all delicious.  With this in mind, I’ve decided that it’s time to be more flexible with my recipes.  From now on, look for a “Variations” section within select recipes that I feel can be made more than one way.

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Egg and Bacon

This is not one for which I would offer alternative garnishes – adding chopped hard-boiled eggs and crisp bacon to the Brussels sprouts is just the ticket.  The only variation I would suggest is that if you’re too lazy to roast the sprouts, you can boil them.  You can also separate the leaves if you prefer but I like the crunchiness of the sprouts just cut in half.  Roasting them until they’re a bit blackened at the edges definitely enhances their flavor.

Serves 4

Ingredients:

1 lb. Brussels sprouts

2 hard boiled eggs

4 strips bacon

1 tablespoon olive oil

Salt, pepper

for the Vinaigrette:

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon diced shallot (or other mild onion)

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

2 teaspoons red wine vinegar

2 tablespoons olive oil

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Trim the ends of the sprouts and pull off any yellow outer leaves. Halve the sprouts and toss them with the oil, salt and pepper.  Put them in the oven on a baking sheet, cut side down, and roast 30-35 minutes until they pierce easily with a skewer and are crisp and brown round the edges. 

To make the vinaigrette: Crush the shallot with the salt.  Add the mustard, then the vinegar and oil. 

When the Brussels sprouts are cooked, toss them with the vinaigrette.

Meanwhiile cook the bacon strips until crisp and then dice.  Chop the egg yolks and whites separately.

Mix some of the chopped bacon and egg in with the sprouts and garnish with the rest.

French Lentil Salad with Beets and Feta

The best lentils for this are the green French lentils du Puy, now readily available at most grocery chains. They hold their shape better, don’t go mushy if you overcook them slightly, and are low in fat, high in protein – and cheap.

Serves 4

Ingredients:

1 cup lentils (washed and picked over)

2 tablespoons chopped parsley (or half parsley, half mint)

2 medium sized beets

1/2 cup feta cheese, crumbled 

for the Vinaigrette:

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons finely diced shallot (or red onion)

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Add the lentils to a pot of boiling water to cover by a couple of inches.  Simmer until tender, adding more water if necessary. This can take between 30 and 40 minutes depending on the freshness of the lentils.  They should not be bitey. Drain well.

Crush the shallot with the salt, then stir in the vinegar and olive oil. Toss the lentils with 2/3 of the vinaigrette.  Add freshly ground pepper and the herbs.

Wrap the beets in foil and bake in the oven until they pierce easily with a skewer or fork (about 45 minutes).  When they are cool enough to handle, peel and dice them and dress them with the remaining vinaigrette.

Assemble the salad.  Place the lentils in a shallow bowl, top with the beets and then the crumbled feta.

Variations:  Instead of the feta, mix the beets with a diced orange from which you’ve removed all pith.  Or, as suggested earlier, top the lentils with diced crisp bacon or sausage of your choice.

Moroccan Orange Salad

This is light and refreshing and, after a somewhat heavy or rich main course (like Moroccan couscous), it can serve as either salad or dessert. I like it best with black olives and mint, though you might prefer it on the sweeter side with orange flower water and dates and/or walnuts.  I sprinkle the oranges with Piment d’Espelette, a red chili pepper powder from the Basque region of France.  I always bring a bottle of it back from France because I can’t bear to be without it, but I recently discovered that you can order it online from Amazon.com and other food suppliers.  It isn’t cheap (a 1.4 oz. bottle costs $9.99), but if you’d like to add a sweet, smoky, mild chili pepper note to just about anything, this is more subtle than paprika or cayenne or any other chili powder.

Serves 4

Ingredients:

3 large navel oranges

1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced

1 teaspoon red wine vinegar

1  teaspoon olive oil

About a dozen black olives (preferably Kalamatas)

1 tablespoon chopped mint

1/2 teaspoon Piment d’Espelette (or paprika)

Salt

Put the sliced onion in a small bowl, cover with the vinegar and a pinch of salt.  Leave to macerate for 10-15 minutes, tossing frequently, to soften the onions.  Drain, saving the liquid. Add any juice you have over from slicing the oranges to it ,as well as the olive oil and  another pinch of salt.  

Peel the oranges, removing all traces of pith. Slice into thin rounds and arrange in circles on a large plate.

Pour the saved dressing over the oranges, decorate with the onions, mint, and olives.   Sprinkle with Piment d’Espelette, if you have it, or a light dusting of paprika. If the olives are large, cut them in half so that you don’t have too much olive on your fork when you compose a celestial bite of orange, onion, mint and olive. This will also give you the opportunity to pit the olives.

Variation:  An alternative is to sprinkle the oranges with orange flower water if available, a half teaspoon of cinnamon mixed with a half teaspoon of sugar and garnish the plate with chopped dates and/or walnuts.  A light and easy dessert.

January is the month that many of us are dismayed when we look in the mirror. So, hoping for a miracle, we seek out healthier food.  I avoid the term “comfort” food because it brings to mind macaroni-cheese, mashed potatoes and that image in the mirror. So, what I’m aiming for are dishes that won’t necessarily knock off all those extra pounds but at least make a stab at “eating healthily” and, equally important, provide some delicious and different meals at the same time.  Here are four vegetarian dishes of diverse origins – Italy, Catalonia, Mexico, and Provence. They don’t go together, but each is easy to make and won’t break the calorie bank.

Piedmontese Peppers

These are perfect for a light meal with – dare I say it – crusty bread to mop up the wonderful juices.  Although it might be hard to find perfect tomatoes at this time of year, even less perfect ones will improve in flavor in their garlic-olive oil cocoon.

Serves 4 (2 halves per person)

Ingredients:

4 red peppers (these should be symmetrical, not deformed)

2 large garlic cloves, chopped

8 ripe plum tomatoes, skinned, halved and lightly salted

1/2 cup olive oil

1 can anchovy fillets

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Halve the peppers and remove the stem, core and seeds.  Season each pepper half with salt and pepper and 1/8 of the garlic.  Distribute the tomatoes evenly among the peppers, squishing them down a bit to almost fill the peppers.  Place in a roasting pan and pour about a teaspoon of oil over each pepper, pouring any leftover oil into the pan.  Bake for about an hour until the edges of the peppers are slightly blackened.  Remove from the oven, let cool a bit, and distribute the anchovies evenly over the surface of the peppers. These are best served warm and are fine reheated the next day.

Postscript: After I had written this, I got to thinking about people who loathe anchovies and whether there was an alternative.  So I sauteed a tablespoon of onion in olive oil, mixed it with about half a cup of canned tomatoes (I used Hunt’s fire roasted, diced, which I particularly like), half a can of drained and flaked tuna, a teaspoon of  capers, a little garlic and salt and pepper.  I stuffed two pepper halves with the mixture, doused them each with a teaspoon of olive oil and baked them in the same way.  Here is Sam the Taster’s reaction: Delicious!  I happen to love both anchovies and tuna, so I liked them both, but the peppers with anchovies definitely had more flavor…if you can’t stand anchovies, I suggest you mix the tuna well with the oil and capers and other ingredients so it absorbs as much flavor as possible.

Mushrooms, Green Beans, and Blue Cheese

We had this dish about 20 years ago in a popular restaurant in Barcelona called Señor Parrelada. It is still going strong, serving fine and reasonably-priced food. We have been making it ever since because it’s both unusual and delicious. The ingredients don’t seem intrinsically Catalan or even Spanish, but the original version was made with Cabrales, a strong blue cheese from the Asturias region in NW Spain. I use any good blue cheese that I have on hand. We serve this as a separate course or as an accompaniment  to something fairly plainly cooked, like a steak, pork chop, or grilled chicken breast.

Serves 4

Ingredients

3/4 lb. green beans (preferably haricots verts, if available)

1/2 lb. mushrooms (white, brown or shiitake)

1 teaspoon olive oil or butter

2 oz. blue cheese, crumbled

Foil for baking

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Top, tail and halve the beans and cook them in boiling, salted water until still slightly crisp.  The cooking time will depend on the size and quality of the beans.  Slice the mushrooms into 3 or 4 pieces and saute them over fairly high heat in the oil or butter until lightly browned and almost cooked (3-4 minutes), adding a good pinch of salt on the way. Have ready a 12″x12″ piece of foil.  Place the beans and mushrooms on the foil, season with pepper and a little more salt, and scatter half the cheese on top. Fold the foil over the mixture to make a secure package. Bake for 10 minutes until the cheese has melted and the beans and mushrooms are cooked to your liking. I say this because some people like their beans almost raw while we prefer them just barely crisp. Sprinkle with the rest of the cheese and serve, preferably still in its foil wrapper. The marvelous aroma as you open the package will send you to the moon.

Zucchini, Tomatoes, and Black Olives

I started making this years ago as a “low cal” dish during one of my periodic dieting binges.  It is really versatile: You can make it with green and/or yellow zucchini (the smaller, the better), leave out the olives or add feta cheese. For a great pasta sauce just add a tablespoon of pesto.  I usually make it adding the zucchini directly to the tomato sauce.  However, if you sauté them first in a little oil until they brown lightly, it about halves the cooking time. Either way, it’s a delicious – and healthy – dish.

Serves 4

Ingredients

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 small onion, finely chopped

1 garlic clove

1 28-oz. can diced tomatoes (or 6 skinned and chopped tomatoes)

1 tablespoon chopped parsley or basil

4-6 zucchini, depending on size

12 black olives, pitted and halved

Slice the zucchini into thin (1/4″) rounds, salt lightly and let drain in a colander while you make a simple tomato sauce: Sauté the onion in the olive oil until softened, about 5 minutes.  Add the garlic, well-diced tomatoes, salt and pepper and cook for a few minutes to combine. Pat the zucchini dry with paper towels and add to the tomato sauce.  Cook until they are still a bit bitey – this will take about 20 minutes.  Garnish with parsley or basil and the olives.  

Jicama, Orange, Cucumber, and Radish Salad

This is adapted from Rick Bayless’s Mexican Kitchen.  It’s so good that you won’t be able to stop eating it.  Zero calories. Does this sound like a commercial?   Make it and it’ll soon become a favorite.

Serves 4 

Ingredients

1 medium jícama

1 cucumber

2 seedless oranges

6 radishes

1/3 cup lime juice

1 teaspoon chili powder

1 tablespoon chopped cilantro

Peel the jícama, cut it into 1/4-inch slices and then into batons about 1″ x 1/4″.  Salt, and toss with half the lime juice and half the chili powder. Let it marinate while you prepare the rest of the ingredients. Peel the cucumber, cut it in half and scoop out the seeds if they’re well formed. Slice into half-moons,1/4 inch thick. Peel the orange and cut it into small segments, removing all the pith. Slice the radishes thinly. The aim of all this slicing and dicing is to make each bite fill your mouth with a balance of flavors so that none dominates.

Mix these ingredients together, adding the rest of the lime juice and the chili powder and more salt  to taste.  Sprinkle with the chopped cilantro and serve immediately. But don’t worry if the dish stands a while – the ingredients will weep a little making an even richer sauce.

Today we had an amazing, simple lunch on the patio.  Even though we’re into November, this is about as close to a perfect Summer day as we get in San Francisco: Blue skies, 70-odd degrees with just a slight hint in the air of Fall to come.

This morning while passing through the UCSF hospital after an appointment  we came upon a Farmer’s Market right there in the lobby  (only in San Francisco, you might say, and apparently only on Wednesdays). Crates of beautiful veggies, all organic and bursting with freshness. We swooped on the heirloom tomatoes, big bunches of basil and coriander, baby new potatoes, green beans and, best of all, ears of corn picked this morning, the vendor assured us.

We raced home to throw the corn on the stove and made some of our favorite coriander butter in the pestle and mortar to douse it with. (It’s very easy to make: Pound 1/4 cup of coriander with a large pinch of salt to form a paste, then add 1 oz. of butter and keep pounding until it’s a lovely green and easy to spread. If you like it spicy, add a few drops of the bright green Chile Habanero sauce which you can find at most supermarkets.) We sliced up a few of the perfectly ripe tomatoes – not squishy as Heirlooms often are – anointed them with basil, a splash of our olive oil from Provence, a smidgeon of balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper, and dug out the last of the chevre we’d brought back from France and plopped in the middle of the plate. With some crusty bread to mop up the juices, we toasted the end of summer with a crisp glass of Sauvignon Blanc.

The rest of the basil was of course perfect to make pesto for our favorite pasta dish from Genoa. A local pasta called trenette is mixed with baby new potatoes, either just boiled or par-boiled and fried until a bit crisp in olive oil, cooked green beans, as much pesto as you think you need, and lots of Parmesan. Although it might seem odd to add potatoes to pasta, the different textures work wonderfully. This is a very old dish – it was eaten by Ligurian monks in the 15th century as a Lenten dish – which has become quite popular lately. However, in most recipes I read, the pasta, potatoes and beans are cooked in one pot and I think trying to get everything to come out cooked just right is way too difficult. It’s not much more trouble to cook things separately and better results are assured.

As for the pesto, I love to make it in the pestle and mortar (yes, I’m a P & M freak!) because the flavor and texture are better, but if you don’t have one, the food processor does a perfectly acceptable job. I don’t put pine nuts in this pesto because I don’t think they add to it, but of course you can if you’re so inclined. I also add the parmesan separately, grating it on top of each serving at the table.

Pasta Pesto with New Potatoes and Green Beans

Serves 4

Ingredients:

3/4 lb. linguine, spaghetti, or pasta of your choice

12 baby new potatoes (preferably red) 

1/2 lb. green beans

2 packed cups basil, large stems removed

1 large clove garlic

salt, pepper, olive oil, parmesan

Make the pesto: Either pound the basil, salt and garlic in a pestle and mortar to form a paste and then add enough olive oil (about 6  or 7 tablespoons) to make a thick emulsion, or do the same in the food processor without letting the pesto become too smooth.

Bring a pot of water to the boil, add the potatoes and cook until almost done (about 15 minutes), or until fully cooked if you don’t plan on frying them. Drain. Cut the potatoes in half  and  fry them in olive oil on medium-high heat until brown and crisp.

In a separate pot of boiling water, cook the beans uncovered (to preserve their color). Cooking time will depend on how large and fresh the beans are, but 5-8 minutes should do it. Drain.

In the meantime, cook the pasta in plenty of salted boiling water, according to the package instructions.  (I find that although we like our pasta al dente, packaged pasta instructions generally underestimate the cooking time by about 2 minutes.) Drain well.

Finally, put the beans, potatoes and pasta in your serving dish, add the pesto, and mix together well. Allow each person to grate fresh parmesan and pepper on top as they like.  Enjoy!

Sam adds: I make this dish often because it’s so easy and is the favorite of more than one of us. I always fry the potatoes (never just boil them) and I like to add extra pesto and veggies to the mix. For example, I would add 3/4 lb. of beans, 16 potatoes, and 3 cups of basil.  (Of course if you up the basil to 3 cups, you’ll have to adjust your olive oil and garlic accordingly: 8-10 tbsp. of oil and 1 1/2 cloves of garlic.)