Splendid Simplicity

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In Praise Of Concentrated Flavors

I’m gloating over the end of summer bounty in my kitchen, revealing in overflowing bowls of tomatoes, a peck (ok, more like half a peck) of peppers, a sack of handsome potatoes, some striped Delicate squash, a chunk of wasabi root, a few leeks, and a big bundle of kale. Since my edible garden consists of a row of big tree pots on my back deck, this feels like an amazing abundance to gather on a soggy October day. Some things (kale, herbs, that fiery wasabi) will carry on through the winter, but most of the pots are ready to be cleaned up and given a restorative topping off of aged compost.

I’ll start by washing everything and sorting anything that needs using soon from the keepers. I fill egg cartons with small tomatoes, turning them often and using them as they ripen. Bigger tomatoes will get slow-roasted and frozen in small batches for soups and sauces. Soup is often on the menu here, especially now that my Mom is here. My sons and daughter-in-law help with her care daily, as do a few dear friends, so the house is a lot fuller than it used to be. That suits me fine, since I find it far more fun to cook when I know the meals will be deeply enjoyed by others.

Simply Marvelous

A friend recently asked whether living with death was depressing. In fact, though Mom is indeed on her way, the house is quite lively. My grandson is a very busy toddler, and his parents spend a lot of time here, studying as well as helping out. Hospice folks are here several times a week, and friends drop by as well. Since I don’t have hours to spend in finesse cookery, I most often make food that’s simply delicious. I have been a bit amused to learn that while some folks appreciate ideas for quickly made, tasty food, others comment that many of my recipes seem too simple to be any good.

Well, it’s absolutely true that very simple recipes are only as good as the ingredients. A perfect example is the French version of potato leek soup that I adapted a few weeks ago: Made with plump, pungent, local leeks and newly harvested, golden potatoes, it’s solidly satisfying and addictively delectable. No wonder ordinary French families eat it almost daily in season. Made with elderly leeks and potatoes that may have been stored under less than ideal conditions, then shipped half way around the world, it’s no doubt pretty meh.

Grace Is In The Details

Even the salt can matter in a recipe of such exquisite simplicity. A mild yet sparkly San Juan Island sea salt or a softly smokey Malden sea salt adds much more to a dish than the slightly bitter, metallic tang of most table salt. Ditto the dab of butter: run-of-the-mill butter lacks any distinctive flavor and at best tastes mildly greasy, where as pastured butter made from organic milk balances the sweetness of pure cream with a faint flavor of grass. Pepper, too; musty, stale peppercorns yield heat that’s lacking in complexity. Fresher whole or dried peppers of many kinds lend mysterious savor and depth to simple dishes. That’s why it’s wise to buy herbs and spices in small batches and toss any that are more than a few months old.

I can look at my simple homegrown ingredients with utter satisfaction, knowing that, with just a few additions, they can be combined into an astonishing variety of meals. If that seems unlikely, consider classic Italian cookery, based on a relatively restricted ingredient palette, yet enchantingly varied in results. The secret, if it can be thought of that way, is to use prime ingredients and to treat them in ways that bring out their essence. That’s why I prefer self-stocks over heavy, greasy broths; the true flavors can sing out cleanly and clearly in a celebration of themselves.

Like what?

One of my family’s favorite store bought soups is a boxed version involving roasted red peppers and tomatoes. Though nicely balanced and lively with vegetables, it’s milk-based, which doesn’t work for everybody here. Thanks to slow roasting and some umami-savory nutritional yeast, this vegan version captures the full garden flavors without sacrificing depth or richness. If your freezer holds some roasted veg, it’s easily made and heartily pleasing.

Vegan Roasted Pepper and Tomato Soup

1 tablespoon avocado or olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon sea salt
2 stalks celery, chopped (leaves included)
1 red bell or sweet pepper, chopped
1 cup roasted red peppers (see below)
2 cups chopped ripe tomatoes with juices
2 cups roasted red tomatoes (see below)
1 teaspoon honey or maple syrup
3 tablespoons brown rice flour (I like the Bob’s Red Mill version)
1/4 up flaked nutritional yeast
1/4 teaspoon hot or smoked paprika (or any)

Combine oil with onion, garlic and 1/4 teaspoon sea salt in a soup pot over medium high heat and cook to the fragrance point (2-3 minutes). Reduce heat to medium low and cook until soft (10-12 minutes). Add celery and red pepper and cook until soft (8-10 minutes). Add roasted peppers, ripe and roasted tomatoes, and honey or maple syrup, cover pan and cook for 10 minutes. Add 4 cups water and bring to a simmer. Blend brown rice flour with 1/2 cup cold water until smooth, then drizzle in while stirring gently until thickened. Stir in nutritional yeast, then season to taste with salt and paprika. With a stick blender, puree to desired consistency. Serves 4-6 and tastes even better the next day.

Slow Roasted Red Peppers

8 sweet or hot peppers, cut in half lengthwise and seeded
1 tablespoon avocado or olive oil
1/4 teaspoon sea salt

Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. Place peppers on a rimmed baking sheet, toss gently with oil and sprinkle with salt. Arrange cut-side-down and bake at 300 degrees F. for an hour, or until slightly caramelized on cut side and well browned on skin side. Let stand for 15 minutes, then peel off skin. Makes about 3 cups.

Roasted Red &/Or Green Tomatoes

2 quarts medium red &/or green tomatoes, halved
1 tablespoon avocado or olive oil
1/4 teaspoon sea salt

Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. Rub each tomato, (skin side only) with oil, sprinkle with salt, then place them cut-side-down in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake at 300 degrees F until soft and edges are lightly caramelized (about an hour). Pack in jars as is and seal or puree first for a smoother sauce. Freeze for up to 3 months (use straight-sided jars and leave an inch of head room). Makes about 4 cups.

This entry was posted in fall/winter crops, Garden Prep, Recipes, Soil, Sustainable Gardening, Sustainable Living and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Splendid Simplicity

  1. Eben says:

    “many of my recipes seem too simple to be any good.”

    Say WHAT?!


  2. Josip says:

    Holy moly, I think I just got a twitch from waitnng that so badly.Fortunately when I get home I’m totally going to hit that. I have one beautiful tomato left from my last farmers market visit and basil in my garden!!

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