IN THE BEGINNING there was a radish. Then there were two. Suddenly, here it is September, and what got off to a slow start, because of a cold, wet spring, has blossomed into yet another full-blown season of vegetables aplenty.
A quick survey of farmers' markets comes up with a medley of nature at its best. Deep purple baby egglants, gorgeous red tomatoes and more cucumbers and squash than we can ever use up. Okra is everywhere and there are enough hot peppers to liven the pots of many a chilihead straight through to Super Bowl XVIII. And let's not forget cantaloupes, peaches and plums--rich in flavor and aromatic in their ripeness--to fill in the gaps at meals and between them.
Transplant this extravaganza of color from the market onto your plate with recipes that use many of these vegetables in combination.
Piccolo Ratatouille combines the purple of baby eggplant, with bright yellows and greens of tiny squash. Red is supplied by peppers and cherry tomatoes. Buy the tiniest eggplants, no bigger than 2 inches long and serve them whole. Leave the caps in place on the eggplants and tomatoes to add additional lines to a dish that is both circles and squares. This ratatouille barely cooks--texture counts. The eggplant and squash retain body, while the cherry tomatoes pop in your mouth.
The beauty of Bruce's gazpacho is that it is a clear soup, a style picked up while traveling in Spain about 15 years ago. It is rich, uncooked and alive with the flavor of cucumber, onion, tomato, green pepper, celery and carrot. You'll need a strong arm to strain all the pulp through a fine mesh strainer, but it's worth the effort. Use diced green pepper, cucumber and slivers of fresh tomato as a garnish and serve it with toasted bread, lightly flavored with garlic. This is a soup fit for Sunday brunch.
Okra and pattypan squash are two vegetables that many people look at in awe, unable to identify, or even begin to guess at how they are cooked. Pattypan, a white flat squash, is pretty in Three Squash Saute', adding a new color to a traditional dish. Parmesan gives it an interesting twist. Eat it piping hot and eat it all, it does not hold well. Okra, a thin 3-inch pod with ridges, is usually a thickener in gumbos and soups. Here it is saute'ed in a light cornmeal batter to retain its texture and shape.
Radishes and green beans are back in the markets. Serve the radishes as a relish, cracked and marinated to taste briefly in sesame oil, soy sauce, cider vinegar and sesame oil. Then make green bean fritters, deep fried with in a beer batter. Garnish them with parsley quickly plunged into the bubbling oil.
Finally, tomato crepes and lentil salad are a vegetarian's delight. The crepes, fancy and filling, require fresh dill in the stuffing and the topping is a thick nutmeg-cheese sauce. Lentil salad is here, not only as another use for cherry tomatoes, but because it makes a lovely salad for a September picnic on the banks of the Potomac. Serve it with muffins and cantaloupe slices. PICCOLO RATATOUILLE (6 to 8 servings) 1 stick unsalted butter 2 fat cloves garlic, finely chopped 1 pound 2-inch eggplants, caps left on 1/2 pound baby zucchini, sliced into rounds 1/2 pound baby yellow squash, sliced into rounds 1/2 pint cherry tomatoes, stems left on 1 red onion, diced 1/2 green pepper, seeded and diced 1/2 red pepper, seeded and diced Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
Melt butter, add garlic and cook until it starts to brown. Add all the vegetables. Stir fry for 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Toss with parsley and serve. BRUCE'S VERY CLEAR GAZPACHO (Makes about 2 quarts) 1 green pepper, seeded 2 medium tomatoes, peeled 1 medium cucumber, peeled 1 stalk celery 3/4 carrot, peeled 1 fat slice onion 1 scallion 2 fat cloves garlic, chopped 16-ounce can tomatoes 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar 4 tablespoons fresh squeezed lemon juice 1/4 cup olive oil 1 1/2 teaspoons seasoning salt Pinch marjoram 1/2 teaspoon basil 1/2 teaspoon dried cilantro 1/4 teaspoon coriander powder Pinch celery salt 1/2 cup tomato juice For the garnish: 3/4 green pepper, chopped 3/4 cucumber, peeled and chopped 1 tomato, peeled, seeded and diced Fresh cilantro leaves (optional)
Coarsely chop vegetables and whirl until blended in food processor or blender with garlic, tomatoes (with their juice) and vinegar, lemon juice and olive oil. Add seasoning salt, marjoram, basil, cilantro, coriander powder and celery salt, blend 30 seconds and set aside 30 minutes.
Prepare the garnish. Strain the gazpacho, pushing through as much of the pulp as possible with the back of a wooden spoon. Strain tomato juice through pulp and add to soup. Add a pinch of basil, marjoram and celery salt. Add green pepper, cucumber and tomato garnish and set in refrigerator 24 hours. Top each bowl with chopped fresh cilantro leaves just before serving.
Note: This soup holds for four days. However, do not add the green pepper, cucumber and tomato garnish more than 24 hours before serving or it will be soggy. Add the fresh cilantro just before serving. NAN HOBSON'S LOW COUNTRY OKRA (6 to 8 servings) 3 dozen okra 2 eggs, slightly beaten 2 tablespoons milk 1/2 cup cornmeal Pinch each cayenne and coarse black pepper Salt to taste 6 tablespoons shortening
Rinse okra. Beat the eggs and milk together. Season cornmeal with cayenne, black pepper and salt. Set aside. Dip all the okra in milk then in cornmeal. Repeat dipping process a second time. Melt shortening in a heavy frying pan. Saute' okra 5 minutes, turning once. It should be lightly browned on all sides. THREE SQUASH SAUTE (2 to 3 servings) 1 pattypan squash 2 medium zucchini 2 tiny yellow squash 2 tablespoons olive oil 1 clove garlic crushed 1 shallot, finely chopped 1/4 cup grated parmesan
Slice squashes 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick. Heat olive oil in a large frying pan. Add garlic and shallot and saute' 1 minute. Add pattypan squash and saute' for 5 minutes. Add zucchini and yellow squash and saute' 5 minutes more, or until desired doneness. Remove from pan, toss with parmesan and serve. GREEN BEAN FRITTERS (4 servings) 1 pound green beans 2/3 cup olive oil 1/3 cup white wine vinegar 1 tablespoon oregano Salt and pepper to taste For the batter: 3/4 cup flour Salt 2 eggs, separated 2 tablespoons olive oil 3/4 cup warm beer To cook: 3 cups olive oil (substitute vegetable oil) 4 sprigs parsley
Clean green beans, snap into bite-sized pieces and dry. Parboil by dropping into boiling water and cooking 5 minutes. Whisk together 2/3 cup olive oil, vinegar, oregano and salt and pepper. Marinate green beans for at least 1 hour.
For the batter, whisk the dry ingredients with the yolks, 2 tablespoons oil and the beer, working from the center out and whisking only long enough to produce a smooth batter. Leave in a warm place for 1 hour. Just before using, beat the egg whites until the peaks hold and fold them gently into the batter.
Drop beans into batter and turn gently to be sure each bean is coated. Drop a few into hot oil (test for heat by dropping a tiny bit of batter into oil; it should sizzle on contact) and cook 5 minutes or until batter is golden brown. Drain on paper towels. Just as you remove the last fritters, plunge 4 sprigs parsley into the hot oil for 1 minute. Use as garnish for each plate. Adapted from "Simple French Food," by Richard Olney. TOMATO CREPES (4 to 6 servings) For the crepes: 1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour 1/2 teaspoon salt 2 tablespoons vegetable oil 2 eggs 1 cup milk 1/2 cup water, approximately Vegetable oil for the pan For the filling: 8 large tomatoes, peeled and roughly chopped 3 tablespoons olive oil 1/4 cup fresh dill 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper Salt to taste For the sauce: 3 tablespoons butter 3 tablespoons flour 2 cups milk 1 to 1 1/2 cups grated cheddar or swiss cheese Freshly ground nutmeg
Combine flour, salt, vegetable oil, eggs, milk and water for crepes and beat until smooth. Batter should be consistency of heavy cream (beat in water if necessary). Let rest 1 hour if possible. Heat 6- or 8-inch crepe pan and brush with vegetable oil. Heat pan over medium-high heat and add 3 tablespoons of batter, swirling quickly to cover the bottom of the pan with a thin layer. Flip the crepe briefly, if desired, to brown on the reverse side.
Chop tomatoes coarsely (a few zaps in the food processor makes the job easier). Heat olive oil in large skillet with lots of surface area. Add tomatoes, dill, pepper and salt and simmer until thin liquid is evaporated and the tomatoes have some body.
To make the sauce, melt butter in saucepan. Add flour and stir over medium heat about 1 minute. Add milk, whisking constantly. Cook until thickened and bubbling. Remove from heat. Stir in 1 cup of cheese and a little nutmeg.
Divide tomato mixture evenly among crepes (about 3 tablespoons of mixture per crepe) and roll to enclose filling. Place cylinders in oblong, lightly greased baking dish and cover with cheese sauce. Sprinkle with additional grated cheese, if desired. Bake at 375 degrees for 15 minutes. Broil briefly to brown on top. LENTIL SALAD (6 servings) 16 ounces lentils 1/2 teaspoon salt 1 onion, stuck with 3 cloves 2 bay leaves 1/4 cup mild olive oil 1/4 cup vegetable oil 1 bunch scallions, trimmed and chopped 2 cloves garlic, minced 1 cup chopped parsley 1 cup toasted walnuts (5 or 6 ounces) 1 pint cherry tomatoes, quartered 1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper 1/4 red wine vinegar
Bring 4 cups water to a boil. Add lentils, salt, onion with cloves and bay leaves. Reduce heat to simmer, cover and allow lentils to cook until they are just tender, about 30 minutes, adding a little water if necessary. Add oil and toss. As lentils are cooling, prepare scallions, garlic, parsley, walnuts and tomatoes and combine in bowl with pepper and vinegar. When lentils have cooled, toss with vegetables. Chill overnight, if possible.