Sunday, June 26, 2011

Community garden salad

Clockwise from bottom: watermelon radishes, panzanella, Ronde de Nice squash
Cucumber & chocolate mint water, watermelon radish garnish

The community garden in Sutter Park is starting to produce. The recent hot weather really boosted a lot of crops, notably summer squashes. Our garden is on the verge of yielding some bonanza tomatoes: San Marzanos for sauces, Cherokee Purple for eating and orange cherries for whatever we feel like. Silk is showing on the corn, we have a Bell pepper just about ready for harvest, and we usually get a strawberry or two for a treat. The watermelons, beans and squash have a long way to go yet, but hopefully by then end of summer they'll all be producing.

After our usual Sunday weed and water, I walked around to see what everyone else is growing and how their plants are doing. The result: a conversation leading to a couple of Rondes de Nice squash, a watermelon radish, and another radish with "giant" in the name - long, red and a bit twisted. Combined with an organic cucumber and an heirloom tomato from yesterday's trip to the market, we had everything on hand for a great veggie/salad plate.

The first thing I thought of was a nice panzanella. This is an Italian salad made with croutons, tomatoes, olive oil and whatever else you want to throw in, if you're not being authentic. The gardener who gave me the Rondes de Nice stressed that they're creamier than zucchini (courgettes if we're being French), and to cook them separately to get familiar with their taste. I couldn't resist throwing the radishes in as a garnish, both for the main plate and the drink.

Recipe notes

Ingredients (for everything) 
  • Stale bread, cut into 3/4"  to 1" cubes. I used a Chinese cleaver for this, since the bread knife was not liking this task.
  • Chicken stock
  • Fully ripe summer tomatoes, medium dice
  • Cucumber, small dice for salad; julienne for water
  • Onion, julienned
  • Fresh basil, chiffonade
  • Extra virgin olive oil (EVOO to foodies)
  • Sea salt
  • Pepper
  • Rond de Nice squash, large dice (irregular)
  • Chocolate mint, chiffonade
  • Garlic, fine dice
  • Fresh grated Parmesan cheese

Since it was part of a summer medley, the panzanella didn't get too involved. However, this can be a meal in itself if you add nice fresh cheese, capers, hard boiled eggs and make it bigger. It can have grilled meats, different herbs, whatever you think is appropriate - although I don't consider it a panzanella unless it has fresh, ultra-ripe tomatoes. You could also add anchovies, but in this case I'd hold the cheese. 
  1.  Preheat oven broiler
  2. Lightly fry the croutons in some oil. 
  3. Splash in some chicken stock and add the garlic. This replaces the soaking and squeezing step from the more traditional recipe. Keep stirring so that the croutons don't stick, transfer them to a baking sheet and pop them in the broiler to crisp up a bit. Keep checking them and turn as needed so they don't burn. 
  4. Set aside.
  5. Assemble the panzanella just before serving time by tossing the tomatoes, cucumbers onions and basil with the croutons in a bowl. 
  6. Pour in some strong, grassy EVOO. I skip the vinegar or lemon juice since I don't want it interfering with the acid from the tomatoes. 
  7. Once it's plated, grate some Parmesan over the top.
Ronds de Nice
These were done subtly to let the delicate flavor of the squash come forth. 
  • SautĂ© the squash, stirring/shaking constantly so they don't stick. 
  • Add chicken stock and some of the julienned onions, salt and pepper.
  • Cook uncovered until the liquid has mostly evaporated but things are still juicy.
Actually, you don't do much with the radishes. The giant type was julienned and plated under the watermelon, which was sliced into thin rondelles then dusted with salt. The juice from the squash and panzanella will run through the julienned radishes, making them a lot more interesting than simple radishes sitting in a plate as an appetizer.

This was a really healthy lunch, certainly much healthier than some kind of spicy grilled meat just dripping with fat. My cholesterol probably thanks me for eating it. Only one drawback: I'm already hungry again.

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