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8 fresh recipes that go easily from farmers market to table

Gretchen McKay, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on

Published in Entertaining

FAIRY EGGPLANT IN GARLIC SAUCE

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Eggplant in garlic sauce is a favorite Chinese takeout dish, but it's pretty easy to make at home, too. Fairy eggplant is an adorable miniature white version with purple stripes; its flesh is so creamy and mild you won't have to salt it.

The list of ingredients looks long, and there's some chopping involved, but once you have everything gathered and ready to go, it's a breeze.

If you love garlic, add a little more. Same with the chili oil. Doenjang (soybean) paste adds a slightly sour-salty-rich flavor. I served it over white rice, with a chopped cilantro garnish.

At the market, look for eggplant with a shiny skin and no blemishes that feels slightly firm but not hard.

2 tablespoons soy sauce

3 tablespoons sugar

3 tablespoons white vinegar

1 tablespoon rice vinegar

Pinch ground white pepper

1 pound fairy eggplant (about 12) or 4 Japanese eggplant

1/4 cup vegetable oil, plus more for pan

2 green onions, trimmed and chopped into bite-sized chunks

1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and minced

4-6 garlic cloves, minced

1-2 teaspoons Doenjang (soybean) paste (optional)

1 tablespoon cornstarch mixed with 3 tablespoons water

Dash or two of hot chili oil (optional)

1 tablespoon sesame oil for finishing dish

Make sauce: In a small bowl, mix together soy sauce, sugar, vinegar, rice vinegar and pinch of white pepper. Set aside.

Slice fairy eggplant into halves or quarters, depending on their size. If using Japanese eggplant, cut into bite-sized chunks.

Heat a large wok or saucepan over high heat. Add vegetable oil and heat until sizzling. Add eggplant and stir-fry until it softens but still holds its shape, about 4 minutes. Remove from pan with a slotted spoon.

Return wok or pan to high heat, and add a little more vegetable oil. Add green onion, ginger and garlic and stir-fry until fragrant, about 15 seconds. Add soybean paste and soy sauce mixture, and cook for 15 seconds.

Add eggplant and stir-fry until the sauce is boiling and the eggplant is hot, about 1 minute. Add cornstarch slurry and stir until sauce thickens, about 10 seconds. Add chili oil, if using, along with sesame oil. Stir-fry for 10 seconds, then remove from heat and serve immediately, over white or brown rice.

Serves 4.

— Gretchen McKay, Post-Gazette

ROASTED RED PEPPER DIP

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Bell peppers are often stuffed, roasted for sandwiches or sliced raw into salads. If company is expected, make this sweet and salty dip as an hors d'oeuvre. It also can be used as a sandwich topping or condiment for grilled meat and fish.

At the market, look for bell peppers that are shiny, richly colored and feel heavy for their size.

6 large red, yellow or green bell peppers

1 cup golden raisins, chopped

1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil

3 tablespoons salt-packed capers, rinsed and drained

1 1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh oregano

Coarse salt

Red vinegar

Roast peppers over a gas flame or in oven under a broiler, turning occasionally, until charred all over, about 10-15 minutes. (My peppers were so large it took about 20 minutes, with constant rotation.)

Transfer to a heatproof bowl and cover with plastic wrap, or place inside a sealable plastic bag. Let stand until cool enough to handle, then peel peppers and remove seeds.

Place peppers in the bowl of a food processor and coarsely chop. Add raisins, oil, capers and oregano. Pulse to combine, then season to taste with salt and red vinegar.

Serve with grilled meats, on top of sandwiches or on grilled flatbread.

Makes about 3 cups.

— Marthastewart.com

BASIL PESTO

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I had crazy good luck with basil this year, probably because most of it was grown in tall containers that were out of reach from all the critters in my yard. As a result, we ate a lot of pesto.

This recipe features cashews instead of the traditional pine nuts, along with lemon zest and juice and a pinch of red pepper flakes. Sometimes I add a little more olive oil for a thinner pesto; other times I overload on nuts and parmesan for a thicker sauce. Either way is terrific on pasta or spooned over roasted veggies.

At the market, look for basil bunches that are brightly colored with fresh, fragrant leaves and firm stems.

2 cups packed basil leaves

1/4 cup roasted cashews

1/2 cup olive oil, or more to taste

Zest and juice of 1 lemon

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Pinch of crushed red pepper flakes

Combine basil leaves, cashews and garlic in a food processor and process until very finely minced. With the machine running slowly, pour in the oil and process until the mixture is smooth, then whirl in the lemon zest and juice.

Add cheese and a pinch or two of red pepper flakes and process very briefly, just long enough to combine. Taste and add salt if needed. If mixture looks too dry, add a little more olive.

Spoon pesto into a container and press a piece of plastic wrap on top (this will keep the pesto from browning). Store in refrigerator for up to 5 days.

To freeze, spoon pesto into an ice cube tray, cover with plastic wrap and freeze for 3-4 hours or until frozen solid. Remove the frozen pesto cubes and place in a plastic freezer bag. Store in the freezer for up to 3 months.

Makes 1 cup pesto.

— Gretchen McKay, Post-Gazette

FRESH MARINARA SAUCE

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Why buy tomato sauce when it's so easy to make from scratch? This marinara comes together in a flash, with just a few ingredients. It will keep in the freezer for up to four months, offering a warm taste of late summer well into winter.

Roma or "plum" tomatoes are best for sauce because they are firm with thick flesh and few seeds.

To easily peel tomatoes, cut a shallow "X" on the bottom with a paring knife after removing the stem. Place the tomato into pot of boiling water for 30 seconds, or until the skin begins to peel back. Remove and place in a bowl of ice water. When cool, starting at the "X," the skin will slip right off.

To remove seeds, cut the peeled tomatoes lengthwise, and use a finger to scoop out the seed sacs and excess liquid into a bowl.

At the market, look for plum tomatoes that are brightly colored and feel firm.

1/4 cup extra-virgin oil

8 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

3 pounds fresh plum tomatoes, peeled, seeded and crushed

Salt

Red pepper flakes

8-10 fresh basil leaves, torn

In a medium, non-reactive saucepan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add garlic and cook until lightly browned, about 2 minutes.

Add tomatoes and their liquid to the pan. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer and season with salt and crushed red pepper.

Cook sauce at a simmer, using a fork or potato masher to break up the tomatoes as they cook.

Cook for 20-25 minutes, until the sauce is chunky and thick, then stir in the basil. Cook for another 5 minutes and season to taste with salt and/or pepper flakes, as desired.

Makes about 3 cups of sauce.

— Gretchen McKay, Post-Gazette

 

POTATO AND PEPPER FRITTATA

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Potatoes can be a home cook's best friend because they're inexpensive and so versatile. Here, they're the base for an easy, cheesy vegetable frittata.

I diced the unpeeled potatoes (from my husband's garden) for a heartier bite, but you could also peel and thinly slice them. Onion, garlic and bell pepper are my go-to veggies, but feel free to get creative with what you have on hand or find at the market. You could also substitute any favorite shredded cheese for the parmesan.

The frittata can be served hot from the oven, at room temperature or cold from the fridge. Be sure to have hot sauce on the table.

At the market, look for potatoes that are firm, smooth and free of sprouts, with no soft, dark areas.

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 large clove garlic crushed

1 pound baby potatoes, small dice

1 bell pepper, chopped

1 small onion, chopped

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

8 eggs, beaten

1/4 cup milk

1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, plus more for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Heat olive oil in medium, heatproof skillet over medium-low heat with the clove of crushed garlic. (I used a cast-iron pan.)

Remove garlic, then add potatoes, pepper and onion to pan and season with salt and pepper to taste. Raise the heat a little and cook for 6-7 minutes. Turn the potato/onion mixture over and cook for 5 minutes more.

In a large bowl, whisk eggs and milk together. Add egg mixture to the skillet and move around and under potatoes to settle them. Transfer skillet to the oven and bake until golden on top, about 10-12 minutes.

Sprinkle cheese on top and let it cook for another minute. Remove from the oven, and serve.

Serves 6.

— Gretchen McKay, Post-Gazette

SPICED APPLE PANCAKES

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Apples are so widely available year-round that you may forget they're a seasonal fruit. In Western Pennsylvania, they're harvested late summer through fall. In addition to making pies, apples are a great addition to pancakes, both in the batter and as a topping.

I used one of my favorite apples, honey crisp, from Soergel Orchards in this recipe, but any sweet and crunchy apple will work. It's the prefect dish when your kids want breakfast for dinner, because it's a little more filling than regular pancakes.

Remember that it can take a few minutes for a pan to heat evenly, so the first pancake or two might not turn out perfectly browned. For a festive touch, sprinkle on a little powdered sugar.

At the market, look for apples that are firm with smooth skin and no nicks or bruises.

1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

2 tablespoons sugar

Dash or two of ground cinnamon, divided

Pinch of kosher salt

4 tablespoons butter, divided

1 large egg, separated

1 1/3 cup milk

4 large apples, peeled, cored, and finely chopped (5-6 cups)

1/2 cup brown sugar (dark or light)

Powdered sugar, for dusting (optional)

Mix flour, baking powder and soda, sugar, a dash of cinnamon and salt in a medium bowl. Whisk to combine, then add 1 tablespoon melted butter, egg and milk. Gently mix ingredients until just combined, then fold in 1 1/2 cups of chopped apple.

Make apple topping: In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt 2 tablespoons butter. Add remaining chopped apples, brown sugar and a pinch of cinnamon. Cook, stirring occasionally, until apples have softened and mixture is jammy, around 15 minutes.

In a large skillet over medium heat, melt remaining 1 tablespoon butter. Pour about 1/4 cup pancake batter into pan. When little bubbles appear, 1-2 minutes, flip and continue cooking until both sides are lightly golden. Repeat with remaining batter, adding more butter to pan as needed. Serve pancakes topped with cooked apple and a dusting of powdered sugar, if desired.

Makes 12 pancakes.

— Gretchen McKay, Post-Gazette

CHIPOTLE CAULIFLOWER TACOS WITH JALAPENO VERDE

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Cauliflower often gets a bad rap because when it's cooked badly, it smells unpleasant and can taste bitter. But you can't go wrong if you roast the brassica, as it brings out its natural sweetness.

Here, cauliflower is tossed with chipotle peppers in adobo before roasting to create a spicy, vegetarian taco filling. Roasted corn and a deliciously tangy jalapeno salsa verde sweetened with honey go on top, along with salty crumbled cotija cheese.

The entire dish can be made in about a half hour, and any leftovers make a great lunch. The jalapeno salsa verde is great with chips, too.

At the market, look for cauliflower that feels heavy in your hand, with densely packed florets that are free of blemishes, browning or wet spots.

For filling

1 medium head cauliflower, cut into small florets

2 small or 1 large poblano pepper, chopped

Extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling

2 chipotle peppers from canned chipotles in adobo sauce

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

For jalapeno verde

1/2 cup olive oil

2 jalapenos

1 bunch fresh cilantro, stems removed

4 green onions, roughly chopped

1 clove garlic, minced

2 teaspoons honey

Juice 1 lime

For tacos

8 corn tortillas, warmed or grilled

1 cup grilled or roasted corn kernels

1/2 cup crumbled cotija cheese

Chopped cilantro, for garnish

Lime wedges, for garnish

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Lightly oil a large baking sheet or line with parchment paper. Add cauliflower and chopped poblano pepper to a large bowl, and drizzle with olive oil and a pinch of salt and pepper. Toss to combine. Add 2 chipotle peppers, along with a tablespoon or so of adobo sauce. Use your fingers to break up the peppers and coat the cauliflower.

Pour cauliflower onto the prepared pan and roast for 25-30 minutes, or until crisp and tender.

While cauliflower is roasting, make jalapeno verde. Combine all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth and creamy. Taste and season with salt and more honey if desired.

To serve, fill each tortilla with roasted cauliflower and poblano pepper, a tablespoon or two of roasted corn and chopped cilantro. Top each with a drizzle of jalapeno verde, crumbled cotija cheese and chopped cilantro. Serve lime slices on the side.

Makes 8 tacos.

— Gretchen McKay, Post-Gazette

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