Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Summer's Selection

We are in full produce swing here in Maine (finally). I always pine for the first tomatoes and even zucchini of the season; cursing our neighbors to the south of us who get to enjoy the fruits of the summer weeks before we can. But due to the very warm temperatures this summer, the first tomatoes and other high summer harvests have arrived. Joe has been dutifully heading to the farmers’ market every week, whittling down our CSA shares and depositing a vast array of vegetables into our kitchen much to my delight.
You see if I go to the farmers’ market after work, the masses have already depleted the stocks and I am left with some wilted kale and vegetable seconds. Not that I mind the seconds, it’s just that I can feel the reproach from farmers eyeing me as though I should have left work early to get there if I wanted the gorgeous multi-colored heirloom tomatoes or the best of what they had to offer. Trust me – I want to take off of work, but getting caught frolicking through farm stands, swinging your reusable bag around joyfully two full hours before the end of the work day is not a good idea. (Picture Ferris Bueller at the Cubs game). Once was enough for me, so instead I send Joe.
What this means however, is that I get very excited to see what lands in the refrigerator every Thursday afternoon. I rush in the door, kick off my shoes and toss my lunch bag and purse off to the side, blowing past Joe with a dismissive wave and a muttered ‘hi honey’ while I bee-line it to the kitchen. First I scan the counter for potatoes and onions, and the occasional loaf of fresh bread. Next, I head to the refrigerator to check for all things vegetal. This spring upon seeing some delicate model thin asparagus in the bottom drawer, I shouted with glee, closed the refrigerator and jumped on an unsuspecting Joe. I was overjoyed.
Next, comes the task of preparing and consuming all of these wonderful items. Which is something again, I look forward to during the week. But it was thinking of something to share here that had me stumped. A cold tomato salad; sure but it’s a bit boring. A warm potato salad with green beans; I think I did that already. Or maybe a dessert with the blueberries I picked earlier in the week. It’s not as if I am not cooking and baking up a storm, I’m just trying to be selective with what I give to you. You are very important to me, and I do not want to give you something off the cuff or as an afterthought.
I made blueberry jam and double berry pound cakes. I made some chile verde enchiladas for a couple with a new baby, along with our standard weeknight meals. But nothing seemed good enough. Until I looked at the produce bins in the fridge and thought I would do a risotto with all the goodies of summer.

Well, this was a good thought, but in application it turned out to be more like a rice casserole than it did a delicate risotto. But I thought I would share the basics of it anyways, because if you have lots of tomatoes, summer squash, and greens this summer, this is a flavorful way to use them up. Maybe I shouldn’t call it a risotto, but I also don’t want to assign some weird hybrid name in Rachel Ray fashion. So we’ll just call it a summer rice hot pot (hot pots are very German, so it works here, no?)

Summer Rice Hot Pot
This will heat up the kitchen, but will be great on the next rainy day that you have. Feel free to substitute your favorite veggies, or make this vegan by omitting the cheese and switching to vegetable stock. Or make this even heartier with some Italian style chick sausage. Also, I used a tomato wine we got as a gift and it added a very nice summery flavor, so experiment with wines and other additions here as well.

3 TB olive oil
1 small onion, diced
1 Tb garlic, diced
¾ c Arborio rice (or other risotto rice)
½ white wine
4-6 cups chicken stock
1 summer squash, sliced into ¼” pieces
1 small zucchini, sliced into ¼” pieces
1 bunch of kale, stems removed, and leaves torn into 1-2” pieces
1 c cherry tomatoes, quartered
1 Tb. Each fresh basil and parsley, chopped
½ c freshly grated Parmesan or other dry cheese like Romano
Salt and pepper to taste
Fresh lemon juice

In a large skillet, sauté onion until translucent about 3 minutes, then add garlic and rice, stirring to coat. Sauté until rice is opaque about 3 more minutes. Add wine and stir until wine is evaporated.

Next add 1 cup of chicken stock, stirring occasionally until mostly evaporated. Continue adding chicken stock one cup at a time until the rice is almost completely cooked about 15 minutes.

When the rice is mostly cooked but still has some crunch in the very center, add in the kale and ½ a cup of chicken stock. Stir to incorporate the kale. At the next addition of stock, add in the summer squash and zucchini.

Once that liquid has evaporated, add in the tomatoes, basil, parsley and cheese. Stir gently to combine. At this point the rice should be done, and there shouldn’t be too much liquid left over. Season with salt and pepper, and squeeze half of a lemon over the whole pan.

Serve with more cheese sprinkled over top of each plate.

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