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Monday, August 15, 2011

Four recipes for the summer bounty, with beer pairings

By Wes Eaton

August begins to reveal the full possibility of fresh Michigan produce. Early summer’s kale, swiss chard, lettuce and collard greens are making way for tomatoes, carrots, beets, cucumbers, garlic and squash--a welcome transition, especially for seasonal eaters. Here I’ve put together four of my favorite summer recipes, complete with beverage partners. These recipes are simple and delicious, and most (if not all) of the ingredients can be found at your favorite farmers market. When seeking out these seasonal items, don't be shy, ask the farmer when they were harvested. We’re in the midst of the bounty here--if the veggies were picked over two days ago head to the next booth.

Pico

Homemade salsa recipes are often complex, but when you start with Romas ripened on the vine and cilantro clipped from the planter, little else is needed. Try this recipe as-is before doctoring it up.

Ingredients:

    • 8 Roma tomatoes
    • two medium white or candy onions
    • one bunch cilantro
    • one lime
    • kosher salt to taste. 
Core and cube tomatoes in a large bowl. Chop cilantro, stem and all, leaving only the ends of the stems out of the bowl. Add along with chopped onion and juice from one lime, add salt to taste, chill and serve with lime-garnished Vienna Lagers--Great Lakes Elliot Ness, for example ($1.79/12oz at Siciliano's).

Pesto

Like salsa, pesto too can be made complex, but start here. Complements to Stephen Gasteyer for this easy yet rich and decadent recipe. Use as a sauce for pastured chicken or make a summer lunch by serving over chilled angel hair with a simple lettuce, balsamic, oil, sea salt and black pepper salad. You’ll plant an entire row of basil next year.

Basil, and lots of it
Ingredients:

    • 1 cup fresh basil leaves
    • 1 garlic clove
    • 1/3 cup olive oil
    • 1/4 cup pine nuts
    • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt. 
If raw, toast the pine nuts ever so gently in a cast iron skillet. Layer ingredients into a food processor or blender and blend to desired consistency. Amazing how the individual parts become an entirely new whole. Freeze in baggies with air removed and amaze yourself in late March. This sauce pairs well with European-style pilsner, which cuts the richness of the pesto. Try Victory Prima Pils ($1.89/12oz), Lagunitas Pils ($1.69/12oz) or Pinkus Organic Ur Pils ($3.79/500ml).

Tomato Salad

The simplest recipe here, inspired by my pal the Perch, this dish is the perfect way to feature the wealth of tomatoes and cukes on farm stands everywhere this month.

Ingredients: Roma tomatoes cut into large cubes, same portion of fresh picked cucumbers, halved and sliced, half as much coarse chopped basil, olive oil, sea salt, fresh cracked black pepper. Mix in a large bowl and serve with a draft cider, homebrewed if possible, but Magners Irish Cider ($3.59/19.2oz) or Michigan-made J.K.'s Scrumpy Cider ($7.79/22oz) will both do in a pinch.

Perch's note: for an acidic kick, try adding balsamic or red wine vinegar to taste; also, if you can't find Romas, any tomato will do, even heirloom tomatoes (pictured below).


Fermented Dill Pickles

Why fermented and not canned? Pickling cucumbers are at their peak in high summer, but through the process of fermentation--in this case with lactobacillus bacteria--you can inhibit spoilage and enjoy them all year. Once a staple farm food, fermented dills were usually a messy affair cellared in frothy crocks and barrels. Much easier is to simply ferment pickles in the quart jars you would later store them in anyway, which is how I recommend you make these delicacies.

Taste is another reason to go the fermentation route--these are the best pickles I’ve ever had. I admit, it's taken me more than a couple seasons to perfect this process. But like all forms of fermentation, producing these pickles yourself is as much an art as it is a science. What this means is that practice and patience play key roles in achieving success, much like in making beer and wine.

To introduce yourself to the science, first read up on fermentation here. (The art part you’ll have to find on your own.) Next, decide how many pickles you want to eat and hand out later this fall and over the holidays. Keep in mind that you can fit 3-4 large and 5-8 smaller pickling cukes in a one-quart jar.

For each quart of pickles you’ll need approximately two cups of brine. Here’s a good formula for about one quart of brine: 3 cups water, boiled and cooled, 3/4 cups white vinegar, 1/4 cup canning salt.

The other ingredients you need include fresh-picked and washed pickling cucumbers, fresh heads of dill, sliced hot peppers, fresh garlic cloves and pickling spice. The key to a good pickle is buying or picking them fresh and using them the same day. If you’re reading this in Grand Rapids, you’ve got about two weeks left of pickle season. I suggest getting over to the Fuller St. Farmers Market and talking with the folks at Visser Farms. A good pickle is firm and boxy. Avoid bloated pickles--they were picked too late. Pickling spice is widely available; however, Global Infusion in the East Hills neighborhood sells organic pickling spice in bulk for $0.95 an ounce, which is a great deal.

To get your pickles going, start by mixing the brine. Stuff everything else into the clean jar and top up with brine. For each jar, use at least three heads of dill, some dill greens, two cloves of sliced garlic and one tablespoon of pickling spice. Loosely seal the lid and store out of the light around 70F. In a few days the clear brine will turn cloudy as the fermentation process begins. In a couple weeks CO2 bubbles will cease. A finished pickle has a slight translucent color when sliced. The white sediment is the healthy bacteria. If the brine is still clear or the pickles turn to mush, compost them and try again next year. Either refrigerate or process in a gentle boiling bath for 15 minutes. Share with special people and serve with French- and Belgian-style farmhouse ales, like Vivant Farmhand ($2.69/16oz), New Holland Golden Cap ($1.79), or the classic Sasion Dupont ($4.89/11.2oz).


Former Siciliano's staffer Weston Eaton is currently pursuing a PhD in Sociology at Michigan State University. He lives with his wife and dogs in Grand Rapids, MI, where pickling season is as much a state of mind as it is a time of year.

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