Ode to the Apple

Jonagold apple

Who can imagine fall without apples? I can't. Apples are probably this season's most popular and favorite fruit. Just before the leaves start turning apples come into season. Though some varieties can even be harvested in mid-summer, the most popular ones, especially those for baking and cooking, are available in fall. As far back as I can remember, apples have always played a part in my childhood. Every fall my family would go apple picking and cider tasting. We still do. I still buy a jug of apple cider and a bushel of apples every single time. Each year always seems to bring better and better apples, farm apples being the best. They are worlds apart from supermarket apples, which are picked months in advance. Nothing beats biting into a freshly picked apple.

My favorite apple varieties are the ones that balance tart and sweet, such as Jonathan, which has beautiful striated red and green coloring. I try to follow the maxim: "an apple a day keeps the doctor away." It's actually quite true, apples contain many antioxidants, which may prevent the onset of cancer and other diseases. Besides eating them out of hand, everyone knows and loves the all-American dessert, apple pie. No holiday in the fall and winter can possibly go on without it. I bake quite a few every autumn. I'm always looking to perfect my pie-making skills and find that right combination of apples to produce the optimal texture. Baking a homemade apple pie is worth the effort; it's just one of those essential American pastimes.

You would think that the United States is the leader in apple production, but actually it is China, the country from which apples originate. Apples eventually spread into Europe, becoming iconic fruit in many nations, finding importance in Greek and German cultures. Plus don't forget Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. The first apples were brought to North America by colonists in the 17th century who planted the first orchard near Boston. By the 20th century, apple production had become a major business in this country, with Washington state becoming the leader. Now there are many pick-your-own apple farms across the country in practically every state.

There are literally thousands upon thousands of apple cultivars. Modern-day varieties are very different from ones that were grown years ago. Our collective tastes have turned toward the sweeter, redder, and glossier. fruit Quirks have fallen out of favor, including russeting, in which the skin is rough like potato skin. Only a very small minority prefers tart apples. Did you know that apple trees are not planted from seed, but they are actually grafted onto root stock? Nowadays orchards, especially pick-your-own farms, graft apple varieties onto dwarf root stock so that the trees are easy to reach for picking. Grafting is the best way to maintain the special characteristics of a specific cultivar and prevent radical mutation. But in some cases crossbreeding the apples results in very desirable fruit. Combining two varieties into a brand new one is a popular practice.

There are countless crosses, but my favorite for both eating and baking is Jonagold (pictured above). It's a cross between Jonathan and Golden Delicious. There are also Jonamac (cross with McIntosh) and Jonalicious (cross with Red Delicious). Some of the best varieties for eating are McIntosh, Empire, gala, Honeycrisp, Jonathan, Macoun, Red and Golden Delicious, and Gingergold. My favorites for baking are Cortland, Fuji, Granny Smith, Jonagold, Mutsu (a.k.a. Crispin), and Winesap. If you plan to make a French tarte tatin, be sure to use eating apples, baking or cooking apples turn to mush. But when baking pies, do not use eating apples, because they turn to mush. It's always advisable to use the appropriate apple for the job. If you're not sure what to buy at the farm stand or what to pick at the local orchard, ask the farmer or orchard staff. They always seem to have the right information. They might also share a few good recipes.

When choosing apples remember that color does not indicate ripeness. So don't always pick the bright red ones. The farmer will know which trees bear ripe fruit and will designate them ready for picking. Areas with trees that have unripened fruit will typically be cordoned off from visitors. To pick the fruit, it's best to take hold of the branch with one hand and the fruit with the other. Remove the apple by twisting and not pulling. Some varieties present apples in pairs like cherries. If you take one from the tree, the other will naturally come with it. If an apple drops while you are attempting to pick it, don't let it go to waste; pick it up. The worst thing you could do is leave it on the ground. So much fruit goes to waste from uncaring visitors. You would think that fallen fruit goes into cider-making, but it's not the case. Never throw apples into your bag or basket, but place them in gently. They do bruise like all fruit no matter how firm they seem to be.

Silverman's Farm

In Connecticut, my go-to farm has always been Silverman's Farm in Easton. You probably remember my mentioning it countless times before. They offer peach, plum, and apple picking when in season. They also sell pumpkins in October and Christmas trees leading up to the holiday. Their farm store sells cider, jams, jellies, honey, and freshly baked pies, tarts, pastries, and cider donuts. Their apple turnovers are my favorite. It's truly a very fun farm to visit for families and kids. To find pick-your-own farms in your state, click here.

Heirloom Tomato Salsa Fresca

tomato salsa

I always have a jar of salsa in the back of my refrigerator. Doesn't everyone? Whenever I'm in the mood for snacking, I reach for it and a bag of tortilla chips. But if I'm craving something a bit more jazzed up, I'll fry tortilla wedges and make my own fresh salsa or my favorite guacamole. I do it so often that I can pretty much prepare everything in a matter of minutes for any occasion, be it a simple get-together with friends or just me on the couch.

It's already fall but that doesn't mean it's time to say goodbye to summer produce. I still have a lot of tomatoes ripening on my table, as well as a few slow pokes on the vine. So to utilize some of those beautiful yet sometimes slightly blemished heirlooms, I decided to make this simple fresh salsa. All it consists of is chopped tomatoes, onions, jalapeno, and cilantro. Lime juice, salt and pepper are the finishing touch. This is my go-to recipe for salsa using pretty heirloom tomatoes from my garden.

heirloom tomatoes

A good step in making salsa is to first peel the skins from the tomatoes. Blanch them in boiling water for a few minutes to facilitate the removal of their skins or just peel them as they are. I skipped that step here so that I could show off the colorful skins. But an essential step is to remove the seeds. Cut each tomato in half through the waist and squeeze the seeds and membrane out over a bowl with a sieve. Save the juice for adding to the salsa or for another use entirely. I like fresh salsa on the slightly watery side so I use the reserved liquid, but you can use freshly pureed tomato to make the salsa thicker. Try this salsa for an easy appetizer or snack. It's a sweet way to say goodbye to summer weather.

Heirloom Tomato Salsa Fresca

6 medium to large heirloom tomatoes in different colors, seeded, chopped, and liquid reserved
1 small red onion, diced
1 small jalapeño, seeded and finely chopped
2 tablespoons lime juice (about 1 lime)
2 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro
fine sea salt
freshly ground black pepper

Combine tomatoes, onion, and jalapeño in a nonreactive bowl. Add lime juice and some liquid from the tomatoes to reach desired consistency. Add half cilantro. Season with salt and pepper. Stir to combine. Add to a serving bowl. Garnish with remaining cilantro. Serve with tortilla chips. Yield: 4 to 6 servings.

Moules au Pernod

moules aux Pernod

Whenever I am in a good French or Belgian restaurant I almost always order mussels. Moules Marinière is that dish almost always found on any self-respectable bistro menu. Or when served with French fries, it's moules frites. Pastis in New York's meatpacking district serves my favorite version, moules au Pernod. Instead of using white wine as its base, the recipe uses Pernod, the sweet anise liqueur with that characteristic yellow-green color. The drink is a lot like absinthe or pastis, for which the restaurant is named. It gives the dish a robust and herbal quality that is beyond amazing. The last time I ate at the restaurant, I split an order of mussels with a friend. We devoured the moules and the frites. We even used the bread to soak up the broth—when we ran out of bread, we just slurped up the broth.

This recipe is a re-creation of that fateful dish. I must say that making it and enjoying it at home was just as—if not more—satisfying. I start by sautéing thinly sliced garlic, then add the Pernod, and finally the mussels. Then just garnish with parsley for a bit of freshness. It's such a quick and easy dish. I love mussels prepared in this way. The recipe would also work well for clams, but I find mussels sweeter and more flavorful than other shellfish. Not only that, but they typically are less expensive than clams, oysters, or scallops. So why go out to dinner at a restaurant when you can make this easy meal at home? Serve the mussels with Belgian fries for a real bistro touch.

Moules au Pernod

1-1/2 pounds mussels
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1/2 cup Pernod
freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup finely chopped parsley

Add mussels to a large bowl and fill with cold water; let soak for 20 minutes. Scrub each mussel and remove the beard by pulling toward the hinge using a towel between your thumb and forefinger for leverage. Let mussels drain in a colander.

Warm oil in a large sauté pan with a tight-fitting lid over medium heat. Add garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add wine. Season with pepper.

Raise heat to high. Once wine begins to simmer, add mussels and cover. Cook until all the mussels have opened, no more than 3 to 5 minutes. Shake the pan to encourage the process. Sprinkle with parsley. Serve immediately. Yield: 1 to 2 main course servings.

Sautéed Spinach with Garlic

sauteed spinach

I would like to say that I loved spinach as a kid, but I mostly detested it along with other vegetables like peas and Brussels sprouts. But now I adore them all. I remember my mom using the Popeye cartoon as an example of why I should eat spinach: so I would grow up big and strong. I'm pretty sure that cartoon was created as propaganda by a team of spinach farmers and mothers. As children, we are all genetically programmed to dislike bitter flavors. That is why kids don't like most vegetables. As we grow into adults our taste buds develop to appreciate and enjoy bitter and even hot and spicy foods.

This simple recipe for spinach is almost too easy for me to include here, but it's my favorite way to enjoy it. It begins with sautéing thinly sliced garlic and a big pinch of red pepper flakes. The spinach is added and cooked until it wilts. For a bit of crunch, I garnish with toasted pine nuts. The flavor of the sautéed spinach is hardly bitter. There really is no excuse to boil or blanch spinach. Doing so just removes all the nutrients and blackens the leaves. Try this side dish with a wonderful dinner and you will see how rewarding it is. I recently paired it with roast beef, mashed potatoes, and Côtes du Rhône wine.

This fall I'm participating in A Way to Garden's first Fall Fest, a continuation of Summer Fest. Every Wednesday a summer produce will be the theme. This Wednesday it's spinach. To participate all you have to do is something as simple as leaving a comment or linking to a favorite blog post or informational site. You can share gardening tips, recipes, and/or pictures. Visit the Fall Fest link for more information. Many other blogs are participating and it would be great to see how far the conversation goes.

Sautéed Spinach with Garlic

Note: Also try this recipe with dandelion greens or arugula.

3 tablespoons olive oil
3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1-1/4 pounds spinach leaves, trimmed, washed, and dried
fine sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling
1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted in a dry pan

Warm oil in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add red pepper flakes; saute 1 minute. Add spinach, tossing and turning, until wilted but still bright green, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Remove to a platter, drizzle with olive oil, and garnish with pine nuts. Serve immediately. Yield: 4 servings as a side dish.

Figs with Honeyed Yogurt

figs with honeyed yogurt

Figs are such a unique fruit. If you have ever eaten one fresh, then you know how special they are. Fresh figs are worlds apart from their dried and shriveled counterparts. Though dried figs do have their uses, I don't care for them at all. Once I had a fresh fig, I never looked back. I was lucky to have a friend who brought us figs and even a fig tree many years ago. Nowadays I seek them out in markets but they are nothing compared to tree-ripened figs with their almost honey-like flavor. Lately another friend has been bringing me figs and I could not be more grateful. I've been enjoying them all summer long.

I love eating figs raw when their practically covered in sticky nectar. I have also baked them into a tart, which I find mellows their flavor. This recipe tries not to cover up the unique flavor of figs. It's very simple. Yogurt, mixed with honey and cinnamon, gets drizzled onto cut figs that are then garnished with toasted pine nuts and mint. The honey in the yogurt sauce brings out the flavors of the figs even more. The pine nuts add crunch and the mint lends aroma. The ingredients give it a Mediterranean touch. Try it for dessert or breakfast.

Figs with Honeyed Yogurt

8 medium to large figs, any color
1 cup Greek yogurt, preferably whole milk
4 tablespoons honey
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons pine nuts, lightly toasted in a dry pan and cooled
1 tablespoon mint chiffonade

Cut figs into halves or quarters and arrange on a platter or 4 individual plates.

In a small bowl, combine yogurt, honey, and cinnamon. Dollop the mixture over the figs. Scatter over with pine nuts and mint. Serve immediately. Yield: 4 servings.

Roasted Chicken Thighs with New Potatoes and Cherry Tomatoes

chicken with potatoes and tomatoes sandwich

Potatoes are among the most popular vegetables in the world. In the States, they are definitely a favorite around the holiday time when mashed and combined with rich butter and cream. I prefer mine to be roasted; when they get that perfect crispy brown exterior and just biting in unveils a fluffy interior unlike any other vegetable. There are so many different ways to prepare potatoes. Sometimes they take the form of pancakes, dumplings, gnocchi, or croquette balls. But simple preparations often win over complicated renditions. The less you do with great produce, the better.

Potatoes are an important foodstuff in many cultures. They have been eaten for centuries and were first cultivated in South America, mainly Peru. There are thousands of varieties. I especially love fingerling potatoes for their creamy texture and purple potatoes for their bright color. New potatoes, which are immature potatoes harvested during summer, are some of the most prized spuds for cooking. Their skins are so thin that it's best to skip peeling them. Steaming, sauteing, and roasting are all great cooking methods.

Potatoes are not necessarily the focus of this recipe, but they are a major part. The fingerlings I use work as sponges to absorb the juices in this baked meal. Cherry tomatoes also play an important role in lending their sweet and sticky juices. It is basically a tray bake in which all the ingredients are prepared separately and then assembled before being put in the oven to roast: The potatoes are boiled. The tomatoes are blanched to remove their skins. The chicken is seared to render its fat and crisp its skin. Finally everything is tossed through with a pesto of oregano, olive oil, and red-wine vinegar, which ties the whole meal together, giving it a Mediterranean touch. In the end it becomes a sticky, crispy oh-so good family-pleasing meal.

This summer I'm participating in A Way to Garden's Third Annual Summer Fest. Every Wednesday a summer produce will be the theme. This Wednesday it's potatoes. To participate all you have to do is something as simple as leaving a comment or linking to a favorite blog post or informational site. You can share gardening tips, recipes, and/or pictures. Visit the Summer Fest link for more information. Many other blogs are participating and it would be great to see how far the conversation goes.

My favorite recipes using potatoes:
Spinach and Mushroom-Stuffed Pork Roulade with Parslied Purple Potatoes
Pommes Frites with Mayonnaise
Gratin Dauphinois

Roasted Chicken with New Potatoes and Cherry Tomatoes

Note: This recipe is based on Jamie Oliver's "Crispy and Sticky Chicken Thighs with Squashed New Potatoes and Tomatoes" from Jamie at Home.

Tip: Removing the skins from the cherry tomatoes is an extra step that is worth taking. It allows their juices to better intermingle with the other components of this dish. Prick their bottoms with the point of a knife, add them to a bowl, and pour boiling water over them. Let them sit for a minute or two. Drain, let cool slightly, and pinch off their skins.

10 to 12 skin-on chicken thighs, boned, cut into halves
1 tablespoon olive oil
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
1-3/4 pounds small new potatoes, such as fingerling, skins on, boiled
1-1/4 pounds cherry tomatoes, blanched, skins removed
1 bunch fresh oregano, leaves only
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus 2 tablespoons
2 tablespoons red-wine vinegar
6 ounces arugula, for serving
1/2 lemon, juiced

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Drizzle chicken thigh pieces with olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Toss together until coated all over.

Heat a large sauté pan over medium-high to high heat. Add the chicken pieces, skin-side down, and sear until most of the fat has rendered and the meat is mostly cooked through, about 10 to 15 minutes total. Using tongs, remove to a rimmed baking sheet.

Press each potato using your thumb or a large spoon until slightly smashed. Add to the baking sheet. Add the blanched and skinned tomatoes.

In a pestle and mortar, combine half the oregano leaves with 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, vinegar, salt, and pepper. Pound until it turns into a paste. Pour it over the chicken, potatoes, and tomatoes. Add the remaining oregano leaves. Toss everything together carefully so as not to crush the tomatoes. Spread out in a single layer. Bake for 40 minutes until golden. Serve with arugula tossed in 2 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Yield: 6 servings.

Pork and Rice-Stuffed Pattypan Squash

stuffed pattypan squash

Summer squashes, zucchini included, are some of the most enjoyable vegetables of the summer season. I love them in all manner and form. I no longer grow them in my garden because they simply take up too much real estate, spreading all over and wreaking havoc on the other vegetables. But I now steadily buy them at farmers' markets and stands. My favorite place to buy them has lately been Sherwood Farm in Easton, CT. There I can get many of the summer varieties including these funny looking pattypan squash.

My favorite way to enjoy all kinds of squashes is to stuff and bake them. My choice of filling includes pork sausage and rice. I typically stuff large overgrown zucchini, but when I saw these pattypans, I just knew I had to use them in this recipe. Their round and conical shape lends them to stuffing easily, especially when they can be cut right through the waist to create little bowls. This recipe for stuffed pattypans works wonderful as an appetizer. This dish is a great way to celebrate the bounties of late summer.

pattypan squash

Pattypan squash are uniquely shaped, almost like little flying saucers or toy tops. They are very delicate and can be eaten raw when sliced very thin or simply steamed or sautéed. Pattypans belong to the same family as yellow squash and zucchini, which are all known as summer squash. The main difference between summer squash and winter squash is their skin. Summer squashes have tender skin, whereas winter squashes have a tough skin. Winter squashes, harvested in late summer, can be stored for long lengths of time going into winter. Summer squashes are grown during the height of summer and should be eaten soon after picking. But nowadays you can get them all year in supermarkets.

Pork and Rice-Stuffed Pattypan Squash

6 pattypan squash
olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 pound Italian pork sausage, casings removed
fine sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon tomato paste
1 medium to large tomato, seeded, diced, liquid reserved
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 cup cooked white rice
1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese

Fit a large pot with a steamer basket, add water just up to the basket, and bring to a boil. Add pattypan squash, cover, and steam until knife tender, about 10 to 15 minutes. Let squash cool to the touch. Trim the stem and cut crosswise. Using a spoon, hollow out the inside and discard seeds and pulp. Set squash halves in a baking dish.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Warm a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add onion and sauté until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and sauté 1 minute. Add pork and cook until no longer pink, about 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Add tomato paste, fresh tomato, and wine. Simmer until liquid has reduced, about 20 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in rice, breadcrumbs, and parsley.

Fill squash halves with meat mixture. Top each with a mound of shredded Parmesan. Bake until heated through and cheese has melted, about 20 minutes. Set under the broiler for the last 5 minutes of cooking time for a crispy cheese crust. Yield: 6 appetizer servings.

Eggplant Jardinière Sandwich

garden sandwich

It's the summer of eggplant. Those funny shaped orbs of purple are one of my favorite vegetables. I especially love the unusual varieties. This summer, as every year, I have been growing lots of eggplants, but not the typical globe variety. This summer was all about Asian eggplants. I grew the Japanese variety, Ichiban, from plants that produce near-ebony purple eggplants and also the Taiwanese Pingtung variety, which is bright purple in color. Both varieties have almost no seeds and are less bitter than typical eggplants. They work exceptionally well in stir-frys or when grilled.

Grilling eggplant is one of the best and healthiest ways to prepare the purple vegetable. Eggplants are a lot like sponges and tend to absorb lots of oil when fried for a dish like eggplant parmigiana. Grilling them reduces the amount of oil absorbed drastically, especially when all you do is rub the slices with a little oil. If you are grilling outdoors, slicing the vegetable lengthwise is best so as to not lose any small round pieces between the grates. The grilled eggplant can be used to make this summery sandwich.

Asian eggplants

This garden sandwich is loosely based on one I once enjoyed at Bouchon Bakery in New York. Unfortunately it is no longer sold. My version not only uses grilled eggplant but zucchini and red bell pepper as well. The grilled vegetables get sandwiched between country bread slathered with pesto and layered with fontina cheese. The sandwich is then pressed like panini until the bread is toasted and the cheese melted. Either a panini press or a grill pan with a weight are ideal, but I use a grill pan and bricks wrapped in foil to act as my weight. The finished sandwich makes a great lunch and even though it's vegetarian, meat-eaters will like it too. Eggplant is just that likeable.

Eggplant Jardinière Sandwich

2 long Asian eggplants
2 zucchini
1 large red bell pepper
olive oil
fine sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
4 large or 6 small slices of bread, preferably French batard or boule
basil pesto, recipe follows
6 slices fontina or mozzarella cheese

Cut off tops and bottoms from eggplants and zucchini; slice into 1/4-inch thick planks. Eggplant slices can be salted to remove excess moisture, if desired. Let sit for 5 minutes before washing and patting dry. Core bell pepper and cut into 1/2-inch strips.

Heat a grill pan at medium to medium-high heat. Drizzle vegetables with just enough oil to coat. Add vegetables, grilling in batches, until slices are limp and marked with grill lines, about 2 to 3 minutes per side. Skins from peppers can be removed at this point, if desired. Remove vegetables to a platter and season with salt and pepper.

Spread one side of each slice of bread with a spoonful of pesto. Top with slices of cheese. Arrange eggplant, zucchini, and bell peppers over top. Press halves together. Brush grill grates with oil. Add sandwiches and grill one side until marked with lines. Carefully flip over, and weight sandwiches with a panini presser or bricks wrapped in foil. Grill until cheese has melted. Remove sandwiches to a board and cut into halves. Serve immediately. Yield: 2 hearty or 3 smaller sandwiches.

Basil Pesto

3 cups basil leaves
2 garlic cloves
1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted in a dry pan and allowed to cool
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/3 to 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
fine sea salt
freshly ground black pepper

Combine basil, garlic, pine nuts, and Parmesan in the bowl of a food processor with a little oil. Pulse until finely chopped. Drizzle in olive oil and process until a paste forms. Check seasoning. Yield: 1-1/2 cups.

Garlic and Black Pepper Shrimp

garlic shrimp

Shrimp is one of my favorite seafood—if not my most favorite. I love the texture, taste, and flavor, especially when paired with more pungent ingredients such as garlic and hot pepper. Garlic is one of those ingredients that is almost always present as a flavor base but hardly ever a main ingredient. In the past I've made garlic soup, which used forty cloves, but this time—to take up the Summer Fest challenge of cooking with garlic—I decided to use garlic as a building block in my favorite dish.

The main flavors of this easy shrimp dish are built from garlic. I slice garlic cloves razor thin and lightly sauté them in oil just until soft. I then add hot crushed pepper and black pepper to bring heat and bite to the dish. A touch of white wine creates a nice sauce. The whole dish is finally garnished with lemon zest and parsley for zingy freshness. The recipe is my interpretation of a shrimp scampi, that classic Italian-American dish. But there are no rules for cooking this easiest of dishes—it's most fun when you experiment.

Enjoy this shrimp dish is great as an appetizer or a main course for dinner. It also makes a a nice lunch when paired with a salad. Here I serve it over rice so that all the juices get absorbed. Pasta would also work well, such as linguine. Or try it with a slice of crusty bread. That's usually how I mop up the great wine sauce. What is your favorite shrimp recipe? And what are your favorite ways to use garlic? I hope it's not for warding off vampires.

This summer I'm participating in A Way to Garden's Third Annual Summer Fest. Every Wednesday a summer produce will be the theme. This Wednesday it's garlic. To participate all you have to do is something as simple as leaving a comment or linking to a favorite blog post or informational site. You can share gardening tips, recipes, and/or pictures. Visit the Summer Fest link for more information. Many other blogs are participating and it would be great to see how far the conversation goes.

Garlic and Black Pepper Shrimp

1 tablespoon olive oil
3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/4 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
1 pound large shrimp, shelled and deveined
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/4 cup dry white wine
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
1 tablespoon finely chopped parsley
white rice, for serving

Warm oil in a large saute pan over medium-high heat. Add garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add red pepper flakes and black pepper; saute 1 minute. Add shrimp and cook, tossing and turning, until pink, about 4 to 5 minutes. Add wine and cook until reduced, about 4 to 5 minutes. Sprinkle with lemon zest and parsley. Serve over rice. Yield: 4 appetizer servings or 2 main course servings.

Summer Corn Vichyssoise

white peach sherbet

Whenever I fire up the grill, I always grill corn. I think it makes the perfect summer side dish eaten right from the cob with nothing, not even salt. But often enough after a family dinner, especially the one this past Labor Day weekend, I find myself with a few leftover ears. I'm always trying to come up with new ways to use the corn. I slice it from the cob and use it in rice dishes, in salsas, or make a succotash. But one of my favorite ways to use leftover corn is in a chilled soup.

Here I reimagine the classic French chilled soup, vichyssoise, with the addition of corn. The base of leek and potato is still the same. It's very mellow, but once the corn is added, it brightens and sweetens the soup. My secret ingredient is a sprig of lemon thyme, which adds a citrusy woodsy note. The soup could also be eaten hot, but why not have a bowl of cold soup during the dog days of summer? It's thoroughly refreshing, savory, sweet and most of all cooling.

Summer Corn Vichyssoise

2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon olive oil, plus more for drizzling
1 large leek, white and light-green parts, thinly sliced
1 medium potato, peeled and diced
3 ears grilled or boiled corn, sliced from the cob
4 cups chicken stock
1 sprig thyme
1 tablespoon heavy cream
coarse sea salt
freshly ground white pepper
chives, for garnish

Heat butter and oil in a medium pot over medium-low heat. Add leek. Cook until translucent and soft but not brown, about 10 minutes. Add potato, chicken stock, and thyme sprig; bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook until potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes. Remove thyme sprig. Add two-thirds of the corn, reserving the rest for garnish.

Using an immersion blender, purée the soup until silky smooth. Stir in cream and season with salt and pepper. If desired, strain the soup through a fine-mesh sieve. Chill for at least 2 hours. To serve, drizzle with olive oil and garnish with remaining corn and chives. Yield: 4 to 6 servings.

Worcester Burgers with Stilton and Arugula

hamburger

What would labor day be without grilling and hamburgers? Burgers are a mainstay of any backyard get-together. No party, especially one at my house, could ever take place without them. It's hard to believe that September is here and soon summer barbecuing will be over. But while the weather is warm there's still time for one last outdoor party before the leaves start falling. So if you are planning on making burgers, this is a recipe for something different.

Here is a burger with a slight English accent. First the meat mixture contains Worcestershire sauce, the famous condiment originally from Worcester, England. And there's Stilton, the British blue cheese. Any blue cheese would work in place of Stilton, but this cheese is worth searching for. It's strong flavor works surprisingly well with arugula and of course, beef. These burgers are tangy, pungent, and peppery.

hamburgers

Since I like to use lean beef, I bind the meat mixture with eggs and breadcrumbs to keep it from crumbling. The burgers are cooked just until done, rested, and then topped with Stilton, a slice of tomato, and arugula. Serve with buns of your choice. But before you add ketchup, mayo, or mustard, just try the burger as is. You might find it's juicy and flavorful enough to not need any condiment cover-up.

Worcester Burgers with Stilton and Arugula

2 pounds ground chuck
1/2 cup seasoned dry bread crumbs
1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
2 large eggs
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
6 hamburger buns
6 ounces Stilton or another blue cheese, sliced
arugula and sliced tomatoes, for serving

In a large bowl, using your hands, loosely mix together ground beef, bread crumbs, Worcestershire sauce, and eggs. Season with salt and pepper. Lightly form six 5- to 6-ounce patties.

Heat a grill, grill pan, or griddle to medium-high heat.

Carefully place the burgers on the grill, searing 4 to 5 minutes per side for medium doneness. Remove to a plate, cover with foil, and let rest for 5 minutes. Grill the buns until light golden. Add a burger to each bun, top with Stilton, tomato slices, and arugula. Yield: 6 servings.

Hungarian Stuffed Peppers

stuffed peppers

Hungarian yellow wax peppers have always been treasured vegetables in my family. It's our connection to the old country, so to speak, since they are rather difficult to source in the States unless you grow them yourself. My dad was always the gardener of the family, growing prized peppers as well as other vegetables every year. Now the tradition has been bequeathed to me and I hope to continue it for many years to come. This year the garden has provided a beautiful bounty of peppers, both hot and sweet. I've used them in all types of preparations, in sautés, stir-frys, and, of course, stuffed peppers.

An iconic dish in Hungarian home-cooking, stuffed peppers can be lumped with the popular dishes of chicken paprikash, goulash, and stuffed cabbage. I'm sure every household has a different recipe for stuffed peppers, but the recipes are still very similar. If you have eaten stuffed peppers before, it probably was with bell peppers prepared in an Italian way, but the preparation and flavor of that dish are much different. It has to do with the ingredients, which are the most important aspect of any recipe, but especially so in this traditional recipe.

Hungarian peppers

Hungarian peppers are the focus of this dish. They are pale yellow in color, pointy in shape, and have a mellow but very fresh flavor. They of course are the peppers that eventually turn into the spice paprika. The peppers ripen completely until they turn red, are dried, and finally ground into a fine powder. In Hungarian, the word paprika stands for peppers, so usually peppers are referred to as fresh peppers, and the red powder is called ground dried peppers. The powder comes in three strengths, sweet, half-sweet, and hot. It's used in pretty much every Hungarian recipe except dessert.

Both fresh paprika and dried paprika are used in this recipe for Hungarian-style stuffed peppers. It's a recipe that my mom makes all the time in the summer. The peppers are simply stuffed with ground meat and rice and simmered in sauce until the filling is cooked and the rice tender. The sauce, which starts with a roux base, gets its color and flavor from fresh or canned tomato sauce and the spice paprika. The tradition is to serve the finished dish with a dollop of sour cream, which adds tartness and thickens the sauce. Don't forget to mop up the remaining sauce with a slice of crusty bread.

Hungarian Stuffed Peppers


for the peppers and filling:
6 to 8 Hungarian sweet yellow wax peppers
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 medium onion, grated
1 garlic clove, grated
1 teaspoon paprika
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
1 pound ground pork (or any combination of ground meat to total 1 pound)
1/2 cup rice

for the sauce:
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 tablespoons flour
2 cups tomato sauce
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
sugar

for serving:
sour cream
finely chopped parsley, for garnish

Core the peppers and remove the seeds and membrane; discard.

To begin the filling, warm oil in a medium saute pan set over medium-high heat. Add onion, saute for 2 to 3 minutes. Add garlic and saute for 1 minute. Add paprika, stir and remove from heat.

In a large bowl, mix together the ground meat, the sauteed onions and garlic, and the rice. Season with salt and pepper. Add a 1/2 cup water. Mix well.

Using your hands, stuff the peppers. If you don't have enough peppers to make use of all the filling, make large meatballs.

To make the sauce, warm a large pot over medium heat. Combine oil and flour to make a roux. Cook, stirring often, for 1 to 2 minutes. Add the tomato sauce and 2 cups water; stir well to combine. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Salt and pepper to taste. If too tart, add sugar to taste.

Add the stuffed peppers to the sauce. Make sure the peppers are submerged. If not, more water can be added. Cook, covered, on a low simmer for 1 to 1-1/2 hours. The tenderness of the rice will indicate doneness. Serve with a dollop of sour cream and garnish with chopped parsley. Yield: 6 to 8 servings.