As the sun’s golden rays begin to cast longer shadows in the early evening over the rolling fields of Block Island and there’s just a hint of a chill in the night air, we cling to the balmy days of summer all the more ferociously.
To banish thoughts of summer’s impending departure, I plan as many meals as I possibly can that celebrate the season’s bounty with family and friends on Block Island. It’s one of my favorite times of the year here. For me, there is no such thing as a glut of fresh homegrown heirloom tomatoes, summer squash or root vegetables. It’s as if my body knows how it’s going to feel come January or February when there simply aren’t any to be had. Bring on the zucchini, the size of baseball bats! Shower me with your excess tomatoes and vegetables and I’ll put them all to good use and be glad of it!
I like to keep dinner relatively simple, celebrating superb, fresh, ingredients with easy preparation. My goal is to keep the fuss and bother to a minimum so that I can enjoy the amazing September sunsets with my family before dinner.
I have a favorite fresh tomato pizza, which is made with phyllo dough. It can be cut up into small, canapé-sized pieces for hors d’oeuvres or cut into larger ones for a lunch or dinner portion. It’s so simple to make and tastes absolutely heavenly —I can almost guarantee you that there won’t be any leftovers.
Another summer favorite is a spin on a Julia Child zucchini recipe, and it’s a good way to use up those dreaded baseball bats of squash and an alternative to the stacks of zucchini bread that you’ve undoubtedly got in your freezer.
Lastly, my end-of-summer repertoire includes an easy, roasted root vegetable dish that goes with just about any main course. It’s great for dinner parties because you can prepare the vegetables ahead and then simply pop them into the oven about half an hour before you are ready to serve dinner. I also love roasted vegetables because the process of roasting them brings out the sweetness of even the most recalcitrant parsnip or turnip. In fact, I never even liked those particular vegetables much until I ate them roasted.
Tomato Pizza with Phyllo Dough
Serves 4 - 6
This recipe is from an 1980s issue of Gourmet magazine. I use heirloom tomatoes whenever possible because of their great flavor and diversity in size and color (though any fresh, ripe tomato will do). Choose a cheese that you think will complement the tomatoes you have. Super sweet tomatoes go well with a sharp goat or even feta cheese, while a tarter tomato pairs well with a milder cheese, such as ricotta or mozzarella.
7 - 14 sheets (plus extra in case of breakage) phyllo dough – thawed at least 8 hours or overnight in the fridge —the slow defrosting helps keep the dough more flexible and less brittle
5 Tablespoons butter, melted
¾ - 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
4 - 6 fresh tomatoes – sliced no more than ¼-inch thick so the juices can evaporate while baking and the dough doesn’t get too soggy
1 medium red onion – very thinly sliced; raw or briefly sautéed – it’s up to you
1 cup fresh ricotta, shredded mozzarella, crumbled goat or feta cheese
Preheat the oven to 375˚ F.
Line a large cookie sheet with parchment paper and spray the paper with cooking-oil spray (or brush lightly with olive oil). Have all your ingredients assembled before preparing the phyllo dough.
Open the package of phyllo dough and unfold the sheets, still stacked. Place the stack of dough sheets on top of another piece of parchment or wax paper so that the pile does not stick to the counter. Cover the top with a slightly damp clean dishcloth or paper towel while you start to assemble the pizza. The sheets are paper-thin. Don’t be dismayed if a few are broken. Most packages contain enough sheets for at least two or three pizzas.
1.Depending on the size of your cookie sheet or jellyroll pan, lay one or two sheets (or more) of phyllo dough side by side on the prepared parchment paper on the cookie sheet.
2.Brush lightly with a little melted butter. Don’t worry if the dough tears a bit while brushing with butter. Sprinkle the buttered layer with a thin layer (a medium-sized handful) of Parmesan cheese.
3.Repeat layering six more times with phyllo dough, butter, and Parmesan cheese, using the last of the butter and Parmesan on the final layer.
4.Arrange tomato slices snuggly together on top of pizza.
5.Scatter onion slices across the top of the tomatoes.
6.Sprinkle or spoon on the ricotta, mozzarella, goat and/or feta cheeses.
7.Top with thyme sprigs or basil leaves and salt and pepper to taste (easy on the salt – you can always add more later.)
8.Bake until the dough is golden brown, approximately 30 to 35 minutes.
9.Remove from oven and let cool 5 to10 minutes before serving.
Shredded Summer Squash and Carrots
When I first tried this recipe by Julia Child, it was a revelation! Never had I realized how delicious summer squash could be. The squash had both texture and taste. What’s the magic involved you ask? Easy. It’s accomplished by squeezing the heck out of the squash to eliminate most of its water. After shredding the squash, it is lightly salted, in layers and then left to drain for 15 minutes. Then it is squeezed and twisted in a dishtowel until it gives up most of its liquid. I add shredded carrots for color and a bit more texture.
The shredding part can be done in advance and the squash left in the fridge until ready to use. It should be cooked, however, just before serving or it might over cook if it’s reheated. It only takes a few minutes.
2 - 3 medium to large zucchini and/or summer squash, peeled, shredded and seeded if necessary (which is often the case for larger squashes).
1 large carrot or 2 small – peeled and shredded
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 Tablespoon butter
1 - 2 shallots or 1 small onion, minced
Fresh parsley, chopped
2 Tablespoons (approximately ) ground sea salt or Kosher salt. (If you only have fine salt, use less or it will be too salty.)
Pepper to taste
1.Drape a clean dish cloth inside a large colander.
2.Shred squash and place several large handfuls (about 2 cups) at a time in colander. Sprinkle with some of the ground sea salt or Kosher salt and repeat as you continue grating and adding the squash to the colander. (You want to have the salt fairly evenly distributed.)
3.Let the colander rest over a dish (to catch any liquid) or place it in the sink for 15 minutes.
4.Gather up the dishtowel like a hobo’s sack and twist the squash in the towel until no more liquid comes out. At this point, you can put the dishtowel in a plastic bag in the refrigerator if making ahead.
5.Melt olive oil and butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat.
6.Add minced shallot or small onion and stir for about a minute.
7.Add the shredded carrots. Stir until carrots and shallots just begin to soften.
8.Add the shredded summer squash, breaking apart with a fork, and stir until the squash is no longer in large clumps and it is lightly coated with the oil and butter. It should be well combined with the carrots. Add more oil if it seems a bit dry but not too much – you don’t want it to become too greasy. This should take only a minute or two. Taste it!
9.Cover for 30 seconds or so with pan top if it still needs to cook a bit more. Your goal is to remove any raw taste that remains, but it should still have an ‘al dente’ feel to it. If it’s cooked enough prior to this, then eliminate this step, as it will continue to cook a little on its own even off the heat.
10. Add pepper to taste. Sprinkle with parsley and serve immediately.
Roasted Root Vegetables
This recipe is so ridiculously simple to make that it’s almost embarrassing! It goes beautifully with whole roasted striped bass, roasted meats or as part of a vegetarian meal. Leftovers can be pureed, with some stock added, to make a tasty soup. So make extra.
Any combination of root vegetables works — some of my favorites can include beets, onions or leeks, acorn or butternut squash, carrots, potatoes, pumpkin, sweet potatoes or yams and parsnips. Use whatever vegetables look good and are readily available.
Also, you can add brussel sprouts, if you like them, or use the same recipe just for the brussel sprouts.
Root vegetables – peeled if necessary and cut up into chunks (a bit larger than bite-sized) all should be approximately the same size or thickness, so they take roughly the same amount of time to cook
Olive oil – enough to lightly coat the vegetables and bottom of the pan or dish
Sea salt or kosher salt and pepper – to taste
Sprigs of fresh thyme or sage (optional)
Parsley, chopped for garnish (optional)
Preheat oven to 400˚ F
1.Place the prepared vegetables into a large shallow baking pan or oven-proof dish.
2.Add some sprigs or leaves of fresh herbs if desired.
3.Pour a few good glugs of olive oil over the vegetables and herbs in the pan and toss the whole lot with your immaculately clean hands.
4.Sprinkle on sea or kosher salt and pepper to taste.
5.Roast for 25 to 35 minutes, turning the vegetables once about halfway through cooking. Test doneness by inserting a fork into the larger pieces of roasted vegetables — it should go in easily.
6.Garnish with fresh chopped parsley if desired.
From the September 2014 Block Island Summer Times