Simply Fresh by Julie Wern

Such wonderful abundance…I just love this time of year when the tomatoes and eggplant ripen and there is still plenty of summer squash and cucumbers! Weren’t those gold cherry tomatoes last week the absolute bomb!!! Like candy on a bush. The culinary possibilities at this time of year are endless and fill me with such utter excitement I can hardly contain myself!

Folks seemed to like my last post in which I highlighted my CSA meals for the week. I thought that this week I would just note a few memorable meals with associated recipes. But before I tell you about these great meals, you have to guess what I ate for breakfast (LOL).

Last week was very busy for us as my son had camp an hour drive away. Ultimately that meant I spent less time in the kitchen and found myself looking for the quick meals, with a few exceptions. One day I was asked to grill-smoke a bunch of pork roasts for a friend and I decided to take advantage of the hot grill to cook up some eggplant. I simply wrapped two small eggplants whole in foil and cooked them covered on the grill until they were very soft. That led to an “Italian” style dinner of Chicken Parmigiana Meatloaf and Roasted Zucchini stuffed with Lemon Ricotta and Cherry tomatoes (see below for recipes).

Another memorable meal utilized some of the CSA cabbage, jalapenos, green beans, and tomatoes (from my garden) in a Mexican style dinner…skirt steak tacos with guacamole and cabbage and Mexican Style Braised Green Beans (see below for recipes).

A fun experiment I tried this week was dehydrating zucchini slices. I sliced seeded zucchini very thinly on a mandolin, tossed the slices with adobo seasoning (I love adobo with zucchini), then put them in the dehydrator for 3-4 hours until they were crisp. My husband loved them and consumed almost the whole batch in one sitting…now that is what I call a great way to get my family to eat zucchini (keep in mind he wouldn’t touch the vegetable at all when we first got married!)

 Featured Item—String Beans

I love the Pick-your-own green beans. They are so easy to harvest (although it is a bit hard on the back) and string beans are one vegetable that I can actually get my son to eat, so they have become a CSA family favorite. I also the love the green and yellow varieties that we have at the farm. They look great together in a dish.

String beans belong to the same general family as shell beans. I was delighted to discover that string beans are very rich in nutrition. They are a great source of dietary fiber (something us Americans don’t get enough of in our diet) and are quite low in calories. They contain high levels of several minerals, as well as vitamins (A, C, K, B-6, and B-1), and carotenoids (even though they are green!).

String beans, especially when young and tender, are delicious raw. I like to put them on crudité platters or simply snack on them.   They are also great slivered into thin bits and put in salads. If they are just a bit too tough for you to eat this way, try blanching them first (just plunge them into an ice water bath after they blanch so you can keep their beautiful color).

Of course, cooked beans are great too. My family loves them simply steamed with salt and pepper. We also love them in stir-fries, soups/stews, and casseroles. See my recipe below for green beans braised with tomatoes and Mexican spices.

Choose beans that are smooth to the touch and that appear crisp. They should “snap” when broken in half. Avoid bumpy and/or overly mature beans as the skins will be tough.

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This meatloaf works best if you have a two-layer meatloaf pan with drainage holes in the top layer. This allows all the excess moisture from the eggplant to drain off into the bottom pan. If you don’t have such a pan, you can improvise by using a broiler pan with holes on top and forming the loaf by hand. If you don’t have a broiler pan, you can simply place a drying rack over a baking pan.

If you wish, you can cook the eggplant in a foil packet on the grill instead of in the oven.

Chicken Parmegiana Meatloaf                                                                  Serves 6

INGREDIENTS:

– 1 large globe eggplants, or two small

– 2 cloves garlic, crushed

– 1/2 teaspoon salt

– 2 pounds ground chicken

– 2/3 – 1 cup tomato sauce or marinara

– 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

-Extra marinara sauce for passing at the table

METHOD:

1. Preheat oven to 400. Spray a 9X 13″ baking pan or casserole dish (like a Pyrex) with cooking spray. If using a large eggplant, cut eggplant in half lengthwise and place each half, cut side-down in pan. Small eggplants can be kept whole. Cover tightly with foil and place in preheated oven. Bake until completely soft, about 45 minutes to 1 hour. Remove from oven and allow to sit for at least 10 minutes. Uncover and allow to cool. Using a spoon, scoop flesh from eggplant skin and place in food processor. Add crushed garlic and salt. Process until completely smooth. Scrape out into a medium bowl.

2. Add ground chicken to bowl with eggplant mixture. Using hands, mix gently until combined. Mixture will seem quite moist.

3. Place mixture into a meatloaf pan (preferably a two piece one with holes in the bottom of the top layer) Place in oven and bake for 30 minutes. Remove from oven and spread with marinara or tomato sauce. Sprinkle with Parmesan. Place back in oven and continue to bake for 15-30 minutes, or until internal temperature reaches 170. Remove from oven and cool for 10 minutes. Slice into individual servings and serve with extra marinara sauce if desired.

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I just loved this stuffed zucchini. The lemon is a nice refreshing touch.

I used fat free ricotta only because I had some I needed to use up. You can use part skim or full fat ricotta if you so desire.

Zucchini Stuffed w/ Lemon Ricotta, Mozzarella, & Cherry Tomatoes   (6-8)

INGREDIENTS:

– 2 large zucchini, cut in half lengthwise

– 3/4 cup fat free or regular ricotta cheese

– 1/2 cup grated reduced fat Mozzarella cheese

– 2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese

– 2 tablespoons freshly minced parsley

– 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest

– 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

– Cherry tomatoes, cut in half

– Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

METHOD:

1. Spray a large baking pan with cooking spray (or brush with oil). Preheat oven to 400℉.

2. Using a spoon, scoop out seeds from zucchini halves, leaving about a 1/4-inch-thick shell. Season with salt and pepper.

3. In a small bowl, mix ricotta, mozzarella, Parmesan, parsley, lemon zest, and lemon juice.   Season to taste with salt and pepper. Divide mixture among each zucchini halves and spread each portion evenly down the center hollow. Place tomato halves in a tight single layer across each zucchini half until they are covered completely with tomato.

4. Bake for about 45 minutes or until tomatoes begin to shrink and zucchini is tender. Allow to cool 5-10 minutes before serving.

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I use this seasoning on all things Mexican…it makes great taco meat (mixed in with ground meat or rubbed on skirt steak before grilling) and vegetable seasoning. This week I rubbed it on skirt steak for tacos and also added it to my Mexican tomato braised green beans (see recipe below).

I significantly multiply this recipe (which was adapted from Grouprecipes.com) and keep some on hand at all times for quick meals. I highly recommend making this blend rather than buying your taco seasoning, which often has MSG or other unsavory preservatives in it.

Mexican Seasoning                                                              makes 3 tablespoons

INGREDIENTS:

– 1 tablespoon chili powder

– 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder, heaping

– 1/4 teaspoon onion powder, heaping

– 1/4 teaspoon cayenne, or less, according to desired degree of heat

– 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

– 1/2 teaspoon paprika

– 2 teaspoons ground cumin

– 1 teaspoon coarse salt

– 1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper

METHOD:

Mix well and store in airtight container. I like to grind in a mortar and pestle to release flavors. Makes about 3 tablespoons.

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You can certainly use canned diced tomatoes for this recipe if you don’t have fresh, ripe tomatoes. I had to do half and half because I only had one ripe tomato from the garden.

Use one or two jalapenos depending upon your desired level of heat in the finished dish.

Mexican Braised String Beans                                                                  Serves 4

INGREDIENTS:

– 1 1/2 pounds string beans, ends snipped, cut in thirds

– 1 teaspoon coconut oil

– 1/2 large onion, minced

– 1-2 jalapeno, seeded, de-ribbed, and minced

– 2-3 large tomatoes, about 2 cups chopped

– 2 teaspoons Mexican seasoning (see recipe above)

– 2 tablespoons chopped cilantro or parsley

– salt and pepper to taste

METHOD:

1. In a medium saucepan, heat oil on medium heat until hot. Add onion and jalapeño and cook, stirring frequently, until onion is soft, about 5-8 minutes.

2. Add chopped tomatoes and cook, stirring occasionally until tomatoes soften and begin to give up their juices, about 3-5 minutes. Add string beans and stir well. Cover and lower heat to a simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, until beans are tender, about 10-12 minutes. If mixture seems a bit dry, add a little water. Season to taste with salt and pepper, if needed. Add cilantro and serve.

4 thoughts on “Simply Fresh by Julie Wern”

  1. Barbara Jennes

    Julie, you are so helpful in giving us fresh ideas on ways to use our great produce from the FARM. This year has been exceptional with the abundance of produce. Gotta love it!!

  2. I am making the zucchini for my girlfriends this coming Saturday – yummy…I might take a photo and share it if I remember that is. Thanks Julie once again for these great ideas that help keep the kitchen fresh with new and exciting flavors.

  3. I am going to try the Chicken Parmegiana Meatloaf. I am not a huge eggplant fan and this is a great way to work it into my repertoire.

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