As a fully qualified ungrateful child of the 50s when children were starving in China, I refused to eat the peculiarly purple beets that occasionally found their way to my plate. It was alien. Period. Obviously, I didn’t grow up on a farm. Many of the vegetables that came my way did so with an interim stop in a can. The beet, however, had the redeemingly gory nickname of Blood Turnip. This was inspiring. It was soon discovered that by mashing the beet pulp between your lip and your teeth long enough before swallowing, you could produce a really disturbing smile.
Fortunately, I’ve since learned to enjoy beets in other ways. This past week, the beauty queen of the beet world, the Chioggia, appeared in our market. With its brilliantly showy concentric circles, this beet deserves the attention it draws. There are dozens of way to prepare these gorgeous spheres, but I love them sliced raw as an implement for dips. Shredded atop a salad is another favorite.
Like many root vegetables, the flavor of beets both intensifies and mellows when roasted. Eastern Europe has created an art form of Borscht, cold, hot, simple, garnished, creamed and otherwise feted. In Poland and the Ukraine the beet is made into a creamed condiment used like mustard and mayo on sandwiches and as a dip. The Pennsylvania Dutch pickled hardboiled eggs with beets. At the other end of the world in Australia, barbecue advocates created the Aussieburger which features a thick slice of pickled beet atop a serious burger. Maybe the Australians should consider adding the Polish/Ukrainian spread to their burger as well.
Pickling beets is truly a simple process. It can be done using Chioggia, golden or red beets either roasted or boiled. These crisp, tart and refreshing tidbits require minimal effort and time and can be table ready with a mere half an hour in the brining liquid. This week’s recipe is for Boiled and Pickled Beets and you can find many other beet recipes on the website including: Cream of Beet, Golden Beet Flan, Roasted Beet and Ricotta Gratin and Beet Hummus. I think I sense an Aussieburger in my future.
Once upon a storybook there was a wily critter named Br’er Rabbit, a trickster who was as quick-minded as he was fleet-footed. His nemesis was Br’er Fox. Br’er Rabbit and Br’er Fox were always at odds. Finally, Br’er Fox caught Br’er Rabbit. Br’er Rabbit cried, “Oh please don’t throw me in that briar patch. Please. Please, don’t throw me in that briar patch.” And Br’er Fox, believing that being thrown in the briar patch was the one thing Br’er Rabbit really didn’t want, immediately threw him into the brambles. As rabbits are quite at home in briar patches, Br’er Rabbit leaped away, laughing up his lucky foot. Presumably, he snatched a few blackberries on his way.
Those of us old enough will remember indolent summers before commonplace air conditioning, will also remember when heat was visible as it rose shimmering off two-lane blacktop roads. If you saw a few humpbacked cars pulled over on one of those rural roads, you might also see whole families battling briars and brambles opportunistically picking berries, filling every container they could find inside of those enormous old cars or jury-rig from their clothing. Boys cupped the front tails of their shirts, men used their hats, and women used everything from dishtowels to beach sand buckets scavenged from the trunks. Scrambling around for a bucket of some sort, you pulled over to join them enthusiastically. Carefully, one or two berries at a time were plucked from their cane by thorn torn fingers and gently carried home for once a summer desserts that usually included cream.
Blackberries have been a summer treat since the Etruscans ruled central Italy. These berries are native to Europe, Asia and North and South America. Throughout Europe and North America blackberry brambles were frequently planted as an effective natural barrier against animal and human marauders. Except, of course, for Br’er Rabbit, who was born and bred in a briar patch.
Since blackberries are red before they are ripe, one could ask what the actual difference is between raspberries and blackberries. Well, other than the ripened color, the answer is simply that the berry stem of the blackberry comes away with the berry when picked. The raspberry, on the other hand, leaves its stem on the cane.
The real news is that these gorgeous fat berries are now available in the market. In talking with one of our market bakers, Barbara Gugnoni of Troy Brook Bakery, she mentioned that she thought that sweet blackberries went especially well with the crisp tartness of lime. Next thing you know, she was providing lime flavored biscuits for the lovely Blackberry Shortcake, that is today’s recipe. She has kindly provided her recipe. However, she is equally happy to provide her wonderfully light biscuits themselves, which is a whole lot easier. Don’t forget to check the web site for other blackberry recipes including: Blackberry and Red Wine Gelatin, Blackberry Panna Cotta and Blackberry-Blueberry Pie. They are all berry, berry good.
The justly famous writer, Russell Baker, once chronicled this time of year, when zucchini ripened, as a time when local gardeners would sneak up to their neighbors porches after dark to leave anonymous gifts of their over abundant zucchini. The food writer, Elizabeth David, is credited with bringing zucchini to American tables in the 1950s. I suspect that at least part of her success was due to her liberation of the zucchini from its more commonly overcooked, watery uncaring recipes. She celebrated its raw crunch, its sweet light fresh flavor and maintaining its delicate firmness if we choose to cook it at all. Zucchini and its sibling, yellow squash, are both summer squashes and are beginning to be available in our market.
In zucchini, we have yet another fruit masquerading as a vegetable, specifically a berry. Its ancestry is distinctly American, as are all squashes. Only when the Spanish transported them to Europe and then the Italians bred and cultivated them, did this squash take its current form which is occasionally called a “tender” squash due to the thin, edible skin.
Zucchini is as easy going as it is easy to grow. It’s a culinary chameleon able to play a main or a supporting role on the table. This squash is an affable member of any team, plays and works well with many different textures. It can stand up to spice or relax with cream. It can be eaten raw, makes a terrific scoop for dips and adds crunch to a salad. There are probably more recipes for zucchini than any other single vegetable (fruit), including zucchini bread, zucchini pickles and zucchini pudding. It is attractive to other vegetables, a good foil for meats and is happily married to grains and pastas of unlimited shapes. Better yet, zucchini is equally happy to be the pasta itself.
Spiralized vegetables has become quite trendy thing, most especially when the spirals in question are zoodles. Zoodles are produced when a zucchini is spiralized or julienned and used like linguine or spaghetti. For those trying to manage carbohydrates it is a minor miracle. In my first experiments, I tried to parboil the zoodles. It was possible, but extremely difficult, to not overcook them. However, when served with a hot sauce, the sauce alone is able to cook the zoodles perfectly and keeping a toothsome firmness.
The longest zucchini on record was grown by Giovanni Batista Scozzafava in 2014 and measured 8 foot 3 inches long. The heaviest zucchini record holder is Bernard Lavery of the U.K. who captured his title with a 64 pound 8 ounce zucchini in 1990. However, the best ones for eating are harvested young, tender and small to medium in size. There are many recipes on the website that we have previously published such as: Zucchini Fontina Lasagna, Grilled Zucchini, Zucchini Linguine with Creamy Lemon Basil Sauce, Chicken with Asparagus, Zucchini and Basmati Rice and Summer Squash & Onion Gratin. Today’s new recipe is for Zoodle Pad Thai which is a refreshing meal in the early dog days we are experiencing.