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Super-easy recipes for early summer produce

These summertime recipes from legendary cookbook author Deborah Madison come together in no time.

By Staff | May 11, 2021

This quick and simple ragout can be made with whatever’s fresh from your garden.

One of the very best things about summer is the abundance of fresh, local, homegrown foods we get to enjoy. At this time of year, a visit to the garden or farmers market is enough to inspire us in the kitchen. The following recipes from Vegetable Literacy all feature summer flavors and ingredients that can be swapped out in smart ways with whatever you have available in abundance. Enjoy the simplicity and health of the freshest summer produce.

Braised fennel wedges with saffron and tomato

Fennel is a natural with seafood, so you might pair this dish with halibut or seared scallops. It’s also good with rice, and black rice makes for an especially dramatic–and delicious–pairing. Be sure to leave the core in the fennel bulb. It’s what holds the wedges together.

2 large fennel bulbs

2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil

1 onion, thinly sliced

2 teaspoons fennel seeds

Good pinch of saffron threads

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

1 clove garlic, crushed

3 tablespoons tomato paste

11/2 cups Fennel Stock (recipe at right), chicken stock or water

1 teaspoon sea salt

1 tablespoon butter

Freshly ground pepper

Minced fennel greens or fresh flat-leaf parsley

Trim stalks and greens from fennel bulbs. (Mince greens for a garnish. If there are none, use parsley.) If the outer thick leaves of the bulbs look tough and scarred, take a slice off the base to loosen them and set them aside for another use, such as fennel stock. Halve each bulb lengthwise and cut halves into wedges about 11/2 inches at the widest part.

Heat olive oil in a wide saute pan over medium-high heat. Add onion and fennel seeds, crumble in saffron and thyme, and cook until the steam releases color from the saffron, several minutes.

Add fennel wedges and cook until golden, tossing fennel and onions occasionally.

Once they are well colored, add garlic, stir in tomato paste, and then add stock and salt. Scrape pan to release juices, then cover and simmer until fennel is tender, another 15 minutes. Serves 4.

Fennel stock

It’s a shame not to use the thick outer leaves, stalks and greens that accumulate when working with fennel to make a fennel stock. This is a very improvisational affair that bears the clear flavors of fennel and would be just the thing to use for any soup that features fennel or other anise flavors, or any fennel dish that calls for liquid.

Trimmings from 1 or 2 fennel bulbs

1 onion, sliced

Root ends and/or firm dark green tops from 1 or 2 leeks

Trimmings from 1 or 2 handfuls of mushrooms

Trimmings from 1 or more tomatoes, if available

1 teaspoon sea salt

1 teaspoon fennel seeds

Put all ingredients in a pot and cover generously with 4 to 5 cups cold water.

Bring to boil, then lower heat and simmer for 30 minutes, by which time the vegetables will be spent.

Strain stock, then use immediately or store. It will keep refrigerated for 1 week.

Spring garden hodgepodge of radishes, leeks and peas depending

Depending is the operative word when there is a garden or good farmers market. Leeks? Yes, but it could also be ramps, walking onions, green garlic or green onions. (Even the humble white onion will do.) Radishes for me are likely to be the long Cincinnati Market variety or a round variety, the roots small and the leaves lush and tender. Peas? A half-cup of shucked shelling peas or slivered snow peas or early sugar snaps. Any and all of these vegetables would be good. Groping around your garden, you’re going to find some treasures that will become the stars of this little ragout, which cooks in just about 10 minutes.

Here’s an example of what vegetables I used and in what amounts, reflecting what I came across one late spring day. A few days later and it would have been a different mix. When I’m a better gardener, the combination will change yet again–hopefully to include more than three asparagus spears.

Handful of radishes, plus their greens

3 thin leeks, white part plus a little of the pale green, sliced (about 1/2 cup)

About 3/4 cup pod peas, shucked (about 1/2 pound pea pods)

3 thick asparagus spears, tough ends trimmed, peeled and sliced on the diagonal

About 2 tablespoons butter made from the milk of grass-fed cows, or your favorite butter, divided

1/2 to 1 cup water or stock

Sea salt

About 1 teaspoon finely chopped tarragon

1 teaspoon lemon juice

Prepare and wash vegetables. Trim radishes and slice lengthwise, making all the pieces more or less the same size. Also wash and dry radish greens, and ready leeks, peas and asparagus. (If you wish, you can make a stock to use in this dish with the leek trimmings, pea pods, asparagus peels, some tarragon and salt. You’ll need only 1 cup or so.)

When you are about ready to eat, melt a tablespoon of butter in a heavy skillet over medium heat. Add leeks and 1/2 cup water or broth, and simmer 5 minutes. Season with a few pinches of salt, add radishes and asparagus, and simmer 3 minutes. Next, add peas and radish greens, making sure there is liquid in the pan as you go and adding more if needed. Continue cooking until peas are bright green and leaves are tender, about 2 minutes longer. The radish leaves will wilt and look a little funky, but they will taste mild and slightly nutty.

When vegetables are done, remove from heat, add a heaping spoonful of butter, season with salt, and stir in tarragon and lemon juice. Taste and adjust seasonings, then serve and enjoy your garden in a bowl. Serves 2.

Beluga lentil salad with purslane and green coriander buds

Purslane, appreciated today for its omega-3s, is a succulent weed with small, plump leaves that creeps along the ground, especially in the garden. The cultivar golden purslane produces much larger leaves on stems that stand upright rather than creep. It’s easy to grow, you can collect the seeds and replant them, or you can just let them reseed themselves, which they’ll do with vigor. Green coriander seeds are picked before they dry.

Dill-flecked yogurt sauce

1/2 cup or more walnuts, toasted

Plenty of purslane sprigs, preferably golden purslane

2 Persian cucumbers, unpeeled, quartered lengthwise and diced

Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Green coriander or chopped cilantro

Cook lentils as directed below. While lentils are cooking, make dill sauce, toast walnuts, pluck purslane leaves and dice cucumbers.

Toss drained lentils with dill sauce. Taste for salt and season with pepper.

Pour lentils into a shallow serving bowl. Cover surface with walnuts, purslane and cucumber to keep everything fresh and crisp, then serve. Serves 6.

Cooked lentils

This basic method of cooking lentils makes a perfectly good dish on its own with the addition of butter or olive oil, the aromatic grind of pepper and maybe a favored herb, such as thyme or parsley. But this is also how you start out if you are making another dish, such as lentil salad.

Although many cooks skip soaking lentils because they believe they cook quickly enough without it, I always prefer the results when I have soaked them. The exception is Indian red lentils. Because they are split, they cook very quickly without soaking, turning to mush before you know it.

1 cup lentils, such as German brown, beluga (black), LePuy, Pardina or other type

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/2 onion, finely diced

Scant 1 tablespoon tomato paste

Sea salt

Rinse lentils. Cover with boiling water and let stand for an hour or more. Or cover generously with cold water and let soak overnight. Drain before cooking.

Warm oil in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onion and cook, stirring frequently, until it begins to color and smell good, about 5 minutes. Stir in tomato paste and mash it around the pan for a minute or so, then add lentils, 3 cups water and a scant 1 teaspoon salt.

Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer. Cover and cook for 20 minutes. Take a taste. They should be tender but still hold their shape. If not, cook them until they are done, then drain them. You can use the lentils right away, or let them cool in their liquid, cover and refrigerate for up to 5 days.

Dill-flecked yogurt sauce

This sauce matches up with countless edibles: beets; lentils; steamed and cooled carrots; potatoes, hot or cold; braised leeks; grains. It’s worth having a mass of dill in your garden for this go-everywhere sauce.

1 small clove garlic

Sea salt

1/2 cup yogurt

1/4 cup sour cream

1/2 cup finely chopped dill

Pound garlic in mortar with 1/4 teaspoon salt until smooth.

Stir in yogurt, sour cream and dill. Taste for salt. You’re done unless you prefer to puree the sauce. Then it will come out pale green with occasional flecks of dill. This sauce will keep for several days in the refrigerator. Makes about 1 cup.

Excerpted from GRIT. To read more articles from GRIT, please visit www.grit.com or call 866-803-7096 to subscribe. Copyright 2021 by Ogden Publications Inc.

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