FINALLY…Tomatoes Are Here!

This year has been a challenge in so many ways. First, we had a cool, wet spring. Which brought us into an even wetter summer, which then catapulted us straight into an incredibly hot and humid stretch, followed by an unseasonably cool period. Really the only things to thrive during these weird weather spells are the plague-like levels of flea beetles and Colorado Potato Beetles. Fortunately, as we head into the final week of August, we are beginning to see some of our usual summer abundance. So, between that, and my need to remind myself of one of the main reasons I work at the farm (incredibly fresh, organic produce) I decided to cook this weekend. Scroll to the end of this post for this week’s recipes using corn, tomatoes and basil.

First, I had to figure out what I was making. I had a few eggplant from last week, in addition to what I got in my share Friday. I had a ton of tomatoes, and I had just bought some okra (see below)…so while this may not be the most balanced of meals, it certainly cured some of my cravings!  I fired up the grill to prepare for Grilled/Roasted Greek Eggplant Spread.  All I did was crank the grill to high, and put these babies on.  Once they were all charred and delicious on the outside, I just sliced them open, scraped their insides into my food processor, and proceeded with my recipe. The picture doesn’t really do the final product justice—but the resulting puree is fresh and light, and tastes good on just about anything. I usually just eat it as a dip with pita chips or other veggies. I have also used it on pizza (with a little feta cheese and maybe some kalamatas) or as a topping for crostini. If you have a lot of eggplant, you can grill/roast them and puree them, then freeze the puree in baggies until you figure out what you want to do with it, or save it until the middle of winter when you are trying to remember what summer tastes like.

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Next I made gazpacho—this is a great soup to make when you really want to make a dent in your share box.  I did use many of the tomatoes that I got in my share this week, but I also took advantage of our supply of seconds (produce with imperfections that doesn’t make the cut into your share). This allows you to buy produce in bulk for a discounted price. Who cares what a tomato looks like if it will just be turned into sauce or soup? Anyway, I had never tried this particular gazpacho recipe by Alton Brown, so gave it a shot. It was a little more complicated than the recipes I usually print out, so I didn’t bother writing it up. It was delicious; however I have followed other recipes that were not as complicated and tasted every bit as good. Too bad I forgot to photograph it before we ate it…

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Once the gazpacho was chilling, I decided I was in the mood for some fried okra. We are growing a really neat variety this year called Big Buck, a German Heirloom. It is really prolific and produces large, FAT fluted pods. It can be a little off-putting since it looks so big compared to “regular” okra.  However, this variety stays tender, even at the larger sizes.  Plus, when you slice it, it makes really pretty star shapes, which is beside the point when you are frying it, since the batter obscures the pretty stars…but it WAS tender and incredibly tasty.  Our okra crop isn’t really big enough to supply everyone with more than maybe a share, if that, but we do have some to sell. And, if you see it in the swap box, GRAB IT.

The final thing I figured I needed was some aioli, or mayonnaise. This recipe is a perfect use of your Happy Hen eggs—the fresher the egg, the better the mayo. This stuff is great. And mildly addictive. I added a handful (or two) of basil to the basic recipe and ended up with not only a dip for my fried okra, but a spread for the next day’s BLTs with heirloom tomatoes… Seriously, this stuff bears no resemblance at all to Hellmann’s, and it is ridiculously simple with this food processor recipe from Mark Bittman—all you need is an egg, some olive oil, a little lemon juice, then whatever flavorings you can dream up.

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