With J back in town and the season for some of my favorite produce coming to a close, I've been on a shopping and cooking and freezing tear. Ive been hitting farms and farm stands and green markets in search of the last strawberries and garlic scapes of the season and scooping up the blueberries and basil and cherries which seem to be hitting their respective primes right about now.
Tuesday afternoon J and I threw the pups into the car with us and headed out east in search of the last strawberries of the season and as many garlic scapes as we could get our hands on. In middle of a tremendous downpour, we got to our usual favorite organic farm, Garden of Eve (http://www.gardenofevefarm.com), and bought almost all of the garlic scapes they had out in the store. Actually, I did buy all they had out and the lovely manager refilled the basket and I picked up most of those too.
What are we going to do with all of these garlic scapes? (If you don't know what a garlic scape is, it's the flower of the garlic plant, cut off before it opens. The stem is garlicy and herbal and crunchy and delicious.) Pesto, my friends, lots and lots of pesto is what we do with them. In my trusty food processor, I chop almonds (pine nuts make me itchy) then add the garlic scapes, some Parmesan cheese, a bit of salt, and some fabulous olive oil. I process that into a gorgeous green-studded-with-almond-brown-and-crumbly-cheese-white paste and try to hold J back. This stuff is heady with the scent of garlic, earthy with the taste of ground almonds and cheese, rich with fruity olive oil, and redolent of herbs without any basil or parsley.
I put aside a cup or so of the pesto and froze the rest in freezer jars (I love these things! Check them out: http://tinyurl.com/freezerjars). During the day Tuesday, I slathered the pesto onto my homemade bread and and wedged some fresh mozzarella in between the crusty slices and pressed them in my Foreman grill. Pesto-mozzarella pannini are delicious. I envision using this pesto in the fall and winter on pasta (very traditional), in pannini (duh!), in salad dressings, in soups, with eggs (scrambled or en cocotte), in quesadillas, you name it.
The strawberry season is over but I couldn't resist looking for a last quart or two of the delicious local beauties that have made me so happy over such a short period of time. Everyone was out of strawberries, but I found two lonely quarts at one farm. They had been grown in Connecticut. I couldn't help myself. My vow to buy only NY and NJ berries was broken because I needed these last berries to be mine. The shame and guilt and pleasure of it all!
These berries were destined for one last batch of sorbet. They currently slumber in my refrigerator, mascerating in their own juices and enjoying the company of some sugar, salt (just enough to temper the sweetness), the juice of some lemons and limes, a shot (or two or three) of tequila, and some triple sec. Tomorrow, they will get blitzed up in the food processor and poured into the ice cream maker before being stored in some extra-large freezer jars. I've convinced J to let me save a couple of quarts of strawberry sorbet for later in the year by promising him some watermelon sorbet this weekend. I know. I know. Watermelons are not yet in season. Don't tell J. I scooped up a small seedless beauty to appease his frozen treat tooth while I stash away the strawberry goodness for a snowy day.
Wednesday, J and I headed into the city to hit the Union Square Green Market. Our goal: blueberries, basil, mushrooms, and some local cheese. If anything else were to catch our eye, all the better.
We got basil. Tons of it. One farm was selling whole basil plants (each about 2.5 feet tall), so we bought three of them. Each plant was enough for a tremendous batch of pesto. Here's more pesto to put into the freezer. Yum!
We picked up some blueberries. Since it is the beginning of their short season, they're still pricey, but I needed some more to bring my share blueberries up to critical mass to make some jam.
We also picked up some broccoli rabe, baby bok choi, shiitake mushrooms, olive cheese, jalapeno cheese, and a whole wheat baguette. We scooted over to Whole Foods for some jalapeno peppers too.
Then we headed down to Chinatown.
The cherries there are not local, but they were ripe and inexpensive and beautiful. We bought six pounds. J thinks at least three pounds are for him to eat, but I might get greedy and cook them all down tomorrow. That depends on how lazy I am when it comes to pitting all of those little buggers. I want some cherry jam and some cherry-blueberry jam and some cherry-ginger chutney. I need one of those cool cherry pitting machines that you pour the cherries into and lovely pitted cherries pop out (http://tinyurl.com/cherrystoner). For now, I hand pit them with a cool little gadget that requires a bit more hand strength than I really have, spurts juice all over my shirt, and is bound to cause a repetitive motion injury (http://tinyurl.com/cherrypitter). It's better than (1) not having cherries at all and (2) cutting out the pits by hand with a knife (the staining! the staining!)
I needed to pick up some fruit for a big sangria this weekend, so I grabbed some decidedly non-local strawberries, blueberries, nectarines, and some more cherries. I know. I know - but it's for a party. I can't let everyone down because I read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and became obsessive, can I?
J managed to forgo the lychees mounded on every vendor's table, much to my surprise; but he did scoop up a pint of freshly cut jackfruit. It smells wonderful. I'm going to try a bite with my breakfast tomorrow.
We also scooped up some Chinese greens, fresh noodles, dried noodles, and a couple of different kinds of dumpling wrappers. I've become obsessed with noodles and dumplings lately, and I feel the need to experiment. My first guinea pigs will be at the party this weekend. I'll ply them with sangria then spring the noodles on them when they least suspect it!
The shopping was fun, but we had a monumental set of tasks we had to complete upon our return home. This was not all going to fit easily into the refrigerator. So some items would have to be broken down before they were stored and other items, including some from the fridge, would have to be processed for alternative storage (at this point, "alternative storage" means the freezer).
We set to work on the strawberries. Three quarts of tiny beauties went into my favorite saucier with some sugar and lots of lemon juice for the final cooked strawberry jam of the season. The cooled jam was spooned into freezer jars and stashed away for another day. The two quarts of Connecticut berries were sliced and seasoned with sugar, lemon and lime juice, salt, tequila, and triple sec before being stashed in the fridge to chill down before they become sorbet.
When the counters were cleared of strawberry stickiness, we turned our attention to the basil. We used the blender jar and the salad spinner bowl as vases, filled with cold refreshing water for the roots of the plants, as we harvested the fragrant leaves. Once harvested, J disposed of the spent roots and stems and rejected leaves (bruised, torn, eaten by something else) while I washed, rinsed, and spun the leaves before wrapping them in paper toweling and nestling them into a zip top bag. They're ready for a marathon pesto making session.
We cleaned out a drawer in the refrigerator and I repackaged some of the take out food we brought home with us to minimize space issues. Of course, that meant that J had to have a nibble of this and a bite of that because not all of the food would fit into my containers, but he didn't complain. That's my boy!
Okay, with all of the shopping, food prep, cooking, and freezing, I'm exhausted. J and the boys are all asleep while I type this and I'm longing to dip into slumber as well. Stay tuned for the saga my upcoming marathon pesto and jam session to be followed by a day of cooking for a party. I'm even more tired just thinking about it!