A summer Italian feast

Basil_700x339_photo credit Lynne Goldman
photo credit Lynne Goldman

by guest blogger Rich Baringer,

I’ve been doing cooking demonstrations this summer at the Blooming Glen Farm, a local community supported agriculture farm, in Blooming Glen. Last week I put together this delicious Italian-themed meal for an enthusiastic group of local cooks.

With all the wonderful tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, squash and herbs available, I wanted to showcase the freshness and great taste of the ingredients.

For me, Italian cuisine does that the best. I bought some cheese and olive oil at Pasqualina’s Italian Market, some pork tenderloins from Blooming Glen Pork & Catering and it was time to cook.

The beauty of dishes like these is that so many of the ingredients are interchangeable. If you don’t have squash, use eggplant. Don’t like thyme? Use oregano. The key is using fresh and high quality ingredients. If you do that, things will turn out great.

photo credit MSClipArt

Here was the menu: We started with the classic Salad Caprese, followed by Grilled Vegetable Pasta and as entreé, Pork with Mustard Sauce over Sauteed Swiss Chard and Cucumber Granita for dessert.

Salad Caprese

  1. Slice a variety of tomatoes to desired thickness (try to use tomatoes that are about the same size).
  2. Slice fresh mozzarella (about the same size as the tomatoes, if possible) into slices about the same thickness as the tomato slices.
  3. Pick and wash medium-to-large sized basil leaves; keep whole, slice or chop.
  4. Have fun with the presentation: stack the ingredients, layer them, toss them, whatever you want to do!
  5. Season with coarse salt, black pepper and a high quality extra-virgin olive oil.
Summer squash. Photo credit Lynne Goldman
photo credit Lynne Goldman

Grilled Vegetable Pasta

(4 servings as a main course, 6-8 as a pasta course):

  1. Preheat grill to high.
  2. Cook 1 pound penne or other pasta in salted water, to al dente according to directions on the package.
  3. Meanwhile, lay out on a sheet pan: 2 small Japanese eggplant, cut in ½ inch slices lengthwise; 2 small summer squash, cut in ½ inch slices; 2 bell peppers (vary the color), cut in half and seeded; 2 medium sweet onions, peeled and cut in quarters (keeping the stem end intact). Season with salt, black pepper, olive oil and lemon juice (or balsamic vinegar) to taste.
  4. In a small bowl, add about 12 cherry tomatoes (vary the color), cut in half, and 3 small garlic cloves, thinly sliced. Season with salt, black pepper, ½ tablespoon olive oil. Toss to coat.
  5. Oil the grill grate and grill eggplant, squash, peppers and onion until tender—turning as needed.
  6. Add tomato/garlic mixture to a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Sauté until tomatoes are tender (only about a minute or so).
  7. When grilled veggies are done and slightly cooled, chop into bite-sized pieces (remove stem end of onions).
  8. In a large bowl, toss drained pasta, grilled veggies, sautéed tomato/garlic mixture and 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh herbs. Transfer to serving dish and top with shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano or pecorino Romano cheese.

Pork with Mustard Sauce over Sauteed Chard

(4 servings):

For the chard

  1. Wash 1 ½ pounds chard, stemmed and roughly chopped, but don’t dry completely.
  2. Heat 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil in a wide, heavy skillet over medium heat. Smash 4 peeled garlic cloves with the side of a knife and toss in the oil. Cook, shaking the pan, for about 2 minutes or until the garlic is golden.
  3. Add the chard, one big handful at a time, waiting until each batch wilts a little before adding another.
  4. Season lightly with salt and a pinch of hot pepper flakes and cover the pan. Cook until chard releases its liquid. Then uncover and cook, stirring, until completely wilted and water has evaporated—about 1-3 minutes. Add more salt & pepper if needed.

For the pork

  1. Preheat grill to high.
  2. Sprinkle 4 pork chops (1 ½ inches thick) or 2 pork tenderloins with ¼ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon black pepper.
  3. Oil grill grate and grill pork until done—to an internal temperature of about 160 degrees. Transfer to a plate and tent loosely with foil.
  4. Add 1 tablespoon olive oil to a sauté pan heated over medium-high heat. Add 4 garlic cloves, thickly sliced; half an onion, chopped; 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme; 1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary and cook until garlic begins to brown and onion becomes translucent—about 3-4 minutes.
  5. Add ¼ cup dry white wine and boil until reduced by half—about 1-2 minutes.
  6. Stir in ½ cup chicken broth and bring to a boil.
  7. Add 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard, 1 tablespoon chopped fresh Italian parsley and any accumulated juices from the meat. Cook for 2 minutes to thicken the sauce slightly.

For serving

  • Place chard on serving platter. Top with chops or sliced tenderloin. Pour sauce over top of meat.

Since I wanted to make everything using Blooming Glen Farm’s veggies, I found a very refreshing dessert, which might sound weird, but it was a big hit.

Cucumber Granita

(a semi-frozen Italian dessert):

  1. Cut 4 cucumbers (about 3 pounds) into 3 inch chunks and place half in a blender or food processor along with ½ tablespoon honey and a squeeze of lemon juice.
  2. Process until smooth and pour through a cheesecloth-lined sieve into a bowl. Repeat with the other half of the cucumber and the same amounts of honey and lemon juice. Cover and chill at least 8 hours.
  3. Press chilled cucumber mixture with a rubber spatula to squeeze out all the juice; discard solids. Pour juice into a 13×9 inch baking dish. (Taste and add more lemon juice, if desired.) Cover and freeze for at least 8 hours or until firm.
  4. Remove from freezer; scrape entire mixture with a fork until fluffy (admittedly, this is easier than it sounds, just be patient!).
  5. Scoop into serving dishes and garnish with lemon wedges and/or cucumber slices if desired.
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