On the Menu This Monday, the Tastes of Summer
Fresh Farm Inspirations
I did a big batch of cooking over the weekend. Since I did not take any shots during the tamaring, you can see what it looks like in the fridge now. I continue to yearn for the tastes of summer, and I included zucchini, tomatoes, and peppers in my recipes. Even when I cooked something a little more fall-like, cauliflower from my Tomato Mountain CSA*, I looked to warm weather cuisines for my inspiration. Actually, I got my inspiration from a grocery store, a grocery store steam table at that.
Yes, that’s right. Me, Mr. Locavore. Vital Information of 15+ years of food postings, I’m drawn to the take-out array at a supermarket. Now, I will aver, it is not any old supermarket. Fresh Farms, of branches in Niles, Wheeling, and Devon in Chicago, is almost for sure the best supermarket in the Chicago area. The stores combine massive amounts of food arcana, need to go Dolinsky on sour creams, Fresh Farms can sell you like 28 to do your comprehensive, Instagram-worthy survey, with very good versions of staples like bread, deli salads, and Serbian cakes. The suburban branches have take-out foods sections, with selections that draw mostly on the Greek heritage of Fresh Farms owners–I say this not knowing for sure that Fresh Farms owners are Greek, but pretty positive that’s where the store’s DNA lies. There’s pork kebabs, stuffed peppers, roasted lamb, lemony potatoes, etc. most, I’m telling you, good for this kinda stuff. And there one day, some cauliflower. Cauliflower of the wettest, loosest, over-cooked kind possible, but not ruined in any way. The Greeks and their culinary neighbors excel in long cooked vegetables. I knew this mess would be good. I knew it would be much better if I used my own, local cauliflower.
I know my picture inspires as much as the background story. Get past it. This is a great way to treat cauliflower. Olive oil is your friend. Olive oil is filled with healthy omega-three oils. People living to 110 on Crete would make cauliflower this way, using much more olive oil. Just combine your cauliflower, your gobs of oil, some garlic, some parsley (or other herb), a good dose of salt to brace against all the oil in a pan that has good lid on medium low heat. The essence of the dish is to “suffocate” the vegetable. Make sure the pan is not too shallow because you want the cauliflower to cook low and slow, its juices mingling with the oil to create the sauce. Check after about fifteen minutes, maybe stirring around, it’s not like rice where it’s ruined once you peek too soon.
For mixed vegetables, my goal comes not from the supermarket but from a super seafood shop in Des Plaines, Boston Seafood. One of my favorite places to eat around here, the menu is loaded with so much, go with a group, especially as every dish really serves two or three, and make sure at least one of the dishes comes with the mixed vegetables, which I think they call roasted but are more baked, as in soft. Boston Seafood knows exactly how to cook their mixed vegetables coaxing out their flavors while preserving the flavor of each component (always potatoes plus a few other things). I have yet to master this dish totally, but I am getting close. The secret, I believe, is that the baking dish needs liquid. I first did this with only olive oil, producing something more like you think when you hear roasted vegetables, you know at the edge of char flavor. The liquid, water and lemon juice, keeps things from drying, from becoming roasted. I’m partial to this combination of tomatoes, potatoes, hot and sweet peppers, and onions. I flavor with garlic and herbs. Boston Seafood includes eggplant a lot in their version, and that’s the one thing I don’t like in theirs as they do not pre-fry the eggplant. It takes at least an hour in a medium oven to get everything all cooked, again check after a while to stir things around, avoiding sticking and burning.
For the record, there’s also tomato braised zucchini on the menu this week. I’ve described that method before. By next Menu Monday, it will be November. I got the feeling it will still taste like summer.
*One member of the Local Family works for Tomato Mountain.