To Make Even More and Keep Going—
It all started with a bowl full of juice I had strained off and saved after stuffing a big batch of tomatoes à la Provençale. In the fridge I also had some containers of roasted sweet peppers and eggplant, sautéed spinach with Walla Walla onions, and blanched corn on the cob. And after a week of long hours, less sleep and either rich foods or skipped meals, what we immediately needed was something tasty, light and nourishing. So I pulled homemade chicken stock out of the freezer and rounded up fresh onions, carrots, garlic, squash, green and wax beans. The idea was to create a pot of summer vegetable soup generous enough to both feed us well now and help restock our fresh pantry for other busy days to come. That’s been the guiding principle behind this year’s seasonal menu classes, and I continue to marvel at how well it works. Even when you find yourself foggy brained and standing in the middle of a kitchen that looks like the aftermath of a hit-and-run crime scene.
"Use What You Already Have and Can Do", continued:
Early yesterday morning after another late night, as I was sorting through the mess and trying to make sense of what remained, even just the idea of combining various odd bits into a glorious pot of vegetable soup began to clarify and feed me. Like a gift from the garden. And having the hand-up from other days' efforts gave me the energy to keep carrying on. Instead of wishing I could skip even the work I love and fall back into bed. In fact, as each element got added to the pot and the room filled with heavenly aromas, I thought about how easily the summer feeds us. Not only with all the fruits and vegetables that can be eaten in their prime straight off the vine, branch or tendril. But also with how quickly they cook up. How flexible they are about the method and temperature. And all the future possibilities they so willingly suggest.
Last week it was some leftover cornbread and two purposely overgrown costata romanesco squashes I had planned to stuff. But plans change, as we all know only too well. So I crumbled the cornbread, roasted round slices of squash, and braised onions in butter with a bay leaf and fresh thyme. Then I pulled out my mother’s retro 9” x 12” Pyrex baking dish to ready with more butter and let the layering begin. Half the cornbread crumbs went in first for an instant and absorbent bottom crust. Then the squash, onions, grated white cheddar cheese, and finally the rest of the cornbread crumbs sprinkled on top. The pan was full. But to hold everything together with an ethereal custard that rises even higher, I whisked together 4 eggs with a cup of cream I wanted to use up, and poured it evenly over all. It took about 45 minutes in a 350°F oven for the custard to set, the crusts to crisp golden brown, and the cheese to ooze and meld into both. Neither a quiche, frittata, bread pudding nor lasagne, this kitchen sink dish was basically inspired by the concepts in all four classics. And reflective of the comfort and ease in past casserole days—only better. God, it was good. With just a simple green salad, some tomatoes and/or green beans. What more could we want?
I’m writing today to encourage us all to come home to and keep on cooking. Even when we’re wobbling and desperately implore the heavens to give us strength. To look back down and around. To start with the best we can find and afford. To let these ingredients inspire and provide for us. To keep stocking up to have enough, but not too much. Some for now and some for later. Because the best is both now and yet to come!
Bon Appetit! Kay