Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Zucchini, Leek and Tomato Quiche

I've got to admit, zucchini is not at the top of my list of favorite vegetables. But it sure is abundant, all summer long. I'm always trying to think of good ways to use it - zucchini feta pancakes and raw zucchini salad are pretty great, but this quiche may be the best yet. 

There are infinite variations of quiche, but my absolute favorite will always be my mom's salmon quiche. In fact, we loved it so much that I really can't remember her making any other kind of quiche! It was just cheddar cheese, leftover cooked salmon, tomato slices and dill on the top. The recipe was based on Mollie Katzen's Quiche Formula from the Enchanted Broccoli Forest. This zucchini version might actually give my favorite a run for its money, thanks to an unusual twist.

I had a fridge full of zucchini and eggs (our two new chickens have started laying and the elder biddies have kicked into high gear for the summer) but no milk. So as I was looking at the Quiche Formula, I suddenly noticed she says buttermilk or yogurt works just as well. And somehow we had two opened quart containers of yogurt hanging around... well, it turns out that the tanginess of the yogurt is exactly what zucchini needs to be spectacular in this quiche!

1 medium zucchini
2 leeks
2 T. olive oil
1 pre-made pie crust
1 cup grated aged/sharp cheddar
Fresh basil, thinly sliced (optional)
3 eggs1 cup plain yogurt
Salt and pepper
1 large tomato or a few small ones

Preheat oven to 375F. Cut zucchini and leeks in thin slices, crosswise. Wash leeks very thoroughly to get all the dirt out. Heat olive oil in a wide skillet, add leeks and zucchini, and cook until tender. Lay crust in a pie dish and spread cheese, then vegetables evenly over the bottom. Whisk together eggs and yogurt, season with salt and pepper, and pour over the filling. Arrange tomato slices over the top and sprinkle with basil. Bake 35-40 minutes, until custard is just set, and cool 10 minutes before serving.

Apricot/Peach and Purslane Salad

Purslane, also known as verdolagas, is an incredibly nutritious, tangy and crunchy, leafy green. It's high in omega-3 fatty acids, and lots of vitamins and minerals. It's also a weed that is fairly likely to be growing in your garden right now! It's abundant in June, but I find that in July it's usually fading after a solid month of long, hot days.

I originally made this salad with fresh apricots and queso fresco, but it's also great with peaches and blue cheese or feta later in the season. The Greek ladolemono dressing, with a one-to-one ratio of lemon juice and olive oil, complements the purslane's tangy flavor.

2 T. lemon juice
2 T. olive oil
1/4 t. salt
Freshly ground black pepper
4-5 fresh apricots or small peaches (or one big peach)
2 ounces queso fresco, feta, or blue cheese
1 pound purslane (large whole sprigs, preferably a few whole plants)
Oil for grilling

Whisk together lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper in a large bowl. Chop the apricots, crumble the queso fresco or blue cheese, and add them to the bowl. Wash the purslane very thoroughly, keeping it in big pieces for grilling (if you've pulled whole plants, keep the roots on – they're easier to handle that way). Dry it gently and rub or brush with oil. Grill over medium heat, turning several times, until the stems are soft and droopy. Using scissors, snip into 2-inch pieces over the bowl, discarding the roots. Toss with dressing and serve hot or cold. Serves 4 as a side.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Peach Old-Fashioned

More fruit from my friend Margarita! I usually think of peaches as an August fruit, but some varieties are already ripe now. We picked three big grocery sacks of these gorgeous little peaches from a little peach tree her nephew planted. I've been doing an unbelievable amount of canning - first all those apricots, and now 6 pints of peach jam and 3 pints of peach barbecue sauce. And while I'm slaving over the the hot stove, I'm drinking one of these lovely Peach Old-Fashioned cocktails.

1 small peach, or a couple slices of a grocery store-sized one
2 dashes bitters
A splash of simple syrup, or 1 tsp sugar and a splash of water
2 oz. whiskey
Lots of ice

Muddle peach with bitters and sugar in the bottom of a glass. Add 2 cubes of ice and 1 oz. whiskey, and stir vigorously, until the ice is somewhat dissolved. Add 2 more cubes of ice and remaining whiskey, and stir vigorously again. Add more ice and garnish with a peach slice (or a whole tiny peach!)

Apricot Jam

It's been an amazing year for apricots!!  For once, we didn't have our usual May 1 frost, so every tree in town is absolutely loaded.

We've got apricots coming out our ears, littering sidewalks with a slippery orange mess, and apparently sending everyone into a canning frenzy. I went to three different stores that were out of canning jars the other day before buying the last two cases at the grocery store near our house.

Apricot jam is so much easier to make than many people think! You do need the special jars though, and you definitely need the jar lifter.

I love picking apricots with my friend Margarita, because her tree always ripens right around my birthday. We picked bags and bags, and I made a case of apricot jam.

The next week, my friend Lorna called to see if I wanted to pick apricots at her magical place out in Placitas. She has about 5 trees. How could I say no? You can always give away apricot jam. So I made another two cases of jam and canned a few quarts of apricots in syrup. Guess now I've got my Christmas presents squared away for this year!

I know apricot jam is not an original recipe by any means (the recipe comes with the pectin packet) but there are a couple of variants I love: 
  • Apricot and Lavender is a great combination, especially because the lavender blooms right around the same time apricots ripen, so eating it in the winter reminds me of those warm June days. 
  • Apricot and Habanero is another winner - the fruity hotness of habaneros goes perfectly with apricots, and it's not overwhelming if you scrape out the seeds and veins.

You can make jam without pectin, just by cooking it down until it thickens, but when you make it with pectin you get a fresher flavor than with the long-cooking method. I like to use the Ball Low or No Sugar Needed pectin that comes in a jar because the batch size is flexible, so I can make just the right amount to fill up my canning pot.

But... the recipe on the jar calls for fruit juice, which I don't want to bother with, and doesn't specify the amount of sugar to use. The amount of sugar to use depends on your taste and how sweet the fruit is - you don't have to use ANY with this kind of pectin. I'm happy with the level of sweetness my recipe produces with my apricots. Another thing the Ball jar doesn't say is that the amount of pectin to use also depends on the fruit (apricots have a lot of natural pectin, whereas many other fruits do not). So my recipe is actually a modification of the one from the Sure-Jell pectin box, and it produces a very firm set with my apricots.

Here's my recipe for 8 pints:
6 cups coarsely chopped apricots (I pulse them in batches in the food processor)
4 cups (or less) white sugar
2 Tbs lemon or lime juice
2 Tbs lavender blossoms OR finely minced habanero peppers
3 Tbs Ball low-sugar pectin

Fill canning pot half-full with water and bring to boil on a back burner. Wash jars thoroughly with hot, soapy water.  Heat lids in a skillet of water on another burner until it comes to a simmer, then turn off the heat. You'll need a pair of tongs to pull them out of the hot water.

Stir together apricots, lemon juice and lavender or habanero in a large pot. Gradually stir in pectin, then bring to a rolling boil (hard enough that it keeps bubbling when you stir it) for 1 minute.  Be sure to stir often while it's heating, otherwise when you finally do stir, it may bubble up suddenly and splash you with burning hot goo. Add the sugar and bring to a rolling boil again. Cook for 1 minute more, stirring constantly, then turn off heat.

Ladle jam into clean jars, wipe the rims with a clean cloth, put hot lids on, and screw the bands down finger-tight. Lower sealed jars into the canning pot, and simmer 15 minutes (25 minutes in Albuquerque at 5000ft, 30 minutes in Santa Fe at 7000ft). Lift straight up, and set on a kitchen towel to cool overnight. Don't worry about wiping off the water pooled on the tops of the jars, it will just evaporate as they cool, and you don't want to do anything to disturb the lid. Sometimes the lids will ping as they vacuum-seal to the tops of the jars - a very satisfying sound!

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Spruce Tips and Salmon

A few weeks ago, I had a bad case of cabin fever. I work at home, and it's been too hot to go outside for the entire month of June anyway. So one night I got the wild idea to ride the tram up to the Sandia Crest just for the evening - they run really late! It's always nice and cool up there, easily 15 degrees colder than down here in the valley. Spruce trees actually grow up there, and while we were sitting on some rocks enjoying the view I looked over and saw... spruce tips!

© Copyright Dave Dunford and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence
Isn't this photo fantastic? I didn't take it - I somehow forgot to take any photos of my spruce tips before I used them all up. But this is a much better photo than mine would have been. If you look closely, there is the most beautiful ladybug on the branch.

I remember being fascinated as a kid by these bright green little bundles of new leaves that grow on evergreen trees each spring. I never knew they were considered edible, though I may have nibbled a few out of curiosity. They have a marvelous, tangy (though astringent) flavor.

I made some spruce salt - just chop a few tablespoons of spruce tips very finely and mix with a cup of salt. The spruce tips have enough moisture in them to make the salt clump, so I added a few grains of rice to absorb the moisture.  I also made some spruce sugar... more on that later.

And then I got a flash of genius! Salmon and spruce tips. Two great tastes that absolutely have to taste great together. Wild-caught Alaskan sockeye is in season now. This was about a pound of fish, and I rubbed it with about a half teaspoon of the spruce salt, a clove of garlic finely minced, and some freshly ground pepper.

I let it sit for a few minutes while I took some photos. I seared the skin side in a cast iron skillet until it looked like it was cooked halfway through, then flipped it over and cooked it for a few minutes more to an internal temperature of 140F.

Wow! This may be the best way I've ever had salmon (and I've eaten a LOT of salmon, growing up in the Pacific Northwest).

With a glass of rose, and a shaved zucchini salad, it was a perfect summer dinner.