Virginia Willis Blog

Twilight: End of Summer Garden

It’s that twilight time in the garden and at the farmer’s markets.

The magic in-between time that gently divides the seasons. The summer darlings such as heirloom tomatoes, vibrant peppers, and the last stubby fingers of okra sit adjacent to mottled wild pears, aubergine-colored scuppernongs bursting with sweet juice, and tender, young winter squash.

The slate of a garden, of a season, is not quickly wiped away. It’s more akin to gentle strokes. The natural transition of the garden is slow, soft, and gentle.

I love the twilight.

Although I’ve enjoyed tomato sandwiches for literally both breakfast and lunch many days this week on pullman loaf Southern sandwich bread from HF Bread Co, it was a real pleasure to take home a taste of fall from the Grant Park Farmers Market last Sunday.

The tomatoes seem to be the stalwart vegetable of summer. Somehow it seems that summer has officially arrived when the first “good tomatoes” come in — and it seems that summer is really leaving us when the tomatoes wind down.

Well, folks, it’s about that time.

I maintain that Southerners have been eating seasonally and locally for generations. It wasn’t “locavorism” or some other such bizarre seemingly made-up word.

It just was. It all seems new again, but really, the concept is as old as when the 1st plowshares were thrust into the earth. We just lost our way for a bit. Some folks still need guidance. Yes, I admit there’s a practical aspect to it. It’s hard to find everything local — and sometimes it’s expensive. There’s no doubt there’s a complicated landscape.

My friend and colleague Sherri Castle has a lovely book, The New Southern Garden Cookbook, to help remind us, to help us once again find our path.

Don’t be fooled by the title. It’s not just for Southerners. It’s to help everyone think about eating what’s in season.

The reviews have been very impressive.
“A celebration of fresh seasonal fruits and vegetables, from apples and asparagus to winter squash and zucchini.”
 –The New York Times Book Review

“If you see the garden as an extension of your kitchen, and if you happen to appreciate a Southern sensibility. . .you’ll be happy with the vegetable-focused recipes.” –The Washington Post

“A must-have cookbook for backyard gardeners and farmers’ market aficionados alike.” –Taste of the South

It’s a beautiful book, full of mouthwatering photos. It’s one of those cookbooks that does it’s job. It makes you hungry.

Sherri’s shared with me a lovely recipe for a Slow Roasted Tomato Tart. Slow roasting the tomatoes really helps those that are less flavorful than those picked at the zenith of summer. And, in a nod towards what’s just around the bend, I am sharing a recipe for Kale Salad with Lemon. I hope you’ll enjoy!

Mama’s Reading List .

  • New recipes and photos at virginiawillis.com
  • LOTS of events on my book tour schedule and new ones coming soon!
  • A couple of weeks ago I paid a visit to an old friend, Amanda Hesser . We shot a video for Warm Summer Shrimp Salad for Food52
  • Lastly, here’s what Amanda had to say about my new book, “Virginia Willis could cook a memorable meal from a sock and some twigs. Whether she’s making southern food (her home turf) or French country dishes — or helping you get ready for company as she does in this treasure of a book, Virginia is someone you want by your side in the kitchen.” Wow! Isn’t that nice!! 

Bon Appetit, Y’all!
VA

Kale Salad with Lemon
Serves 4 to 6

1 bunch kale
2-3 slices baguette, toasted
1/2 garlic clove, mashed to a paste (see below)
1/4 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese, more for garnish
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, more for garnish
Freshly squeezed juice of 1 lemon
1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes, or to taste

First remove the stems of kale then slice then into chiffonade. Chiffonade is is a classic French technique that means thinly slicing an herb, such as basil, or a leafy vegetable, into strands or ribbons. To make chiffonade, stack the leaves one on top of the other, and roll them tightly into a cylinder. Using a chef’s knife, slice the cylinder crosswise into thin strips. Place the kale ribbons in a large bowl.

Using a microplane or box grater, grate the bread into the kale. Add garlic, cheese, oil, lemon juice, salt, and pepper flakes. Toss to thoroughly coat. Refrigerate to wilt and let the flavors marry, at least 30 minutes. Taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper before serving.

Garlic Paste
To prepare garlic paste, place the broad side of an unpeeled clove of garlic on a clean work surface and give it a whack with the flat side of a chef’s knife. Remove the papery skin and trim away the tough basal plane at the top of the clove. Halve the garlic lengthwise and remove any of the green shoot, if present, as it is bitter. Coarsely chop the garlic, then sprinkle it with coarse salt. (The salt acts as an abrasive and helps chop the garlic.) Then, using the flat side of a chef’s knife like an artist’s palette knife, press firmly on the garlic, crushing a little at a time. Repeat until the garlic is a fine paste.

Slow Roasted Tomato Tart
Serves 8

1/2 recipe Basic Pastry I (recipe below)
1/2 cup crème fraîche
2 tablespoons wholegrain Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme, divided
3/4 cup crumbled soft, fresh goat cheese
3 cups Slow-Roasted Tomatoes (recipe below)

Fit the pastry into a 10-inch tart pan with a removable bottom. Bake and cool to room temperature according to the directions.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Mix the creme fraiche and mustard and 1 tablespoon of the thyme in a small bowl. Use the back of a small spoon to spread 2 tablespoons of the mixture evenly over the bottom of the tart crust and set the rest aside. Sprinkle the cheese into the crust.

Cover the cheese with the tomatoes. Working from the outside of the crust toward the center, arrange the pieces in concentric circles and overlap their edges so that very little of the filling shows.

Bake the tart until the tomatoes are just beginning to lightly brown, about 15 minutes. Sprinkle with the remaining 1 tablespoon of thyme. Cut into wedges and serve warm or at room temperature with a spoonful of the remaining creme fraiche mixture on the side.

Basic Pastry 1
Pastry for one double-crust 9-inch pi e, two 9-inch regular or deep-dish pie shells, or two 9- or 10-inch tart shells

The keys to this flaky, flavorful pastry are chilled vodka and lard. Sherri explains the vodka, “Pastry is flaky when its chilled liquid evaporates quickly in the oven, leaving little steam pockets between the grains of flour. Because vodka evaporates even more quickly than water, this pastry is more flaky than most.”

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, divided
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons sugar
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into small cubes and chilled
1/2 cup lard, cut into small cubes and chilled (about 4 ounces)
4 tablespoons vodka, chilled
2 to 4 tablespoons ice water
Instant flour or additional all-purpose flour, for rolling

If you do not have a food processor, use a pastry blender or your fingertips to work in the fat.

Place 1 1/2 cups of the flour and the salt and sugar in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade or pastry blade and pulse to combine. Scatter the cubes of butter and lard over the flour and pulse until the pieces of fat are the size of small peas. Add the remaining 1 cup of flour and pulse until the mixture looks like coarse cornmeal. Transfer into a large bowl.

Sprinkle the vodka and 2 tablespoons of the ice water over the flour mixture and stir with a fork or rubber spatula to form large clumps that pull in all of the dry ingredients. Squeeze a small handful of dough; if it doesn’t hold together, stir in more ice water, 1 tablespoon at a time. Although the pastry should not be wet, it works best when it is a little sticky.

Gather the clumps into a smooth ball of pastry. Divide the pastry in half and shape each piece into a ball. Flatten each ball into a disk and wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes and up to 3 days. This gives the pastry time to rest, so the flour can continue to absorb the liquid and the pastry will be easier to handle. For longer storage, place the wrapped pastry in a freezer bag and freeze for up to 2 months. Thaw in the refrigerator overnight before using.

Slow Roasted Tomatoes
Makes 3 cups

3 pounds ripe Roma or other paste tomatoes
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Preheat the oven to 250°F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.

Core the tomatoes, cut them in half lengthwise, and use your fingers to scoop out the seeds. (A small tool called a tomato shark is the best way to remove only the core without lopping off the end of the tomato.)

Place the tomatoes cut-side up in a single layer on the prepared baking sheet. Sprinkle with the salt and drizzle with the oil. Roast until the tomatoes have collapsed and their centers are mostly dry, yet still slightly soft and plump, 2 to 4 hours, depending on the size and moisture content of the tomatoes.
The pieces should have the texture of a moist prune. Let the tomatoes cool to room temperature on the pan. Gently pull off and discard the skins. Set aside for tart.

Sherri’s recipes and images from THE NEW SOUTHERN GARDEN COOKBOOK: ENJOYING THE BEST FROM HOMEGROWN GARDENS, FARMERS’ MARKETS, ROADSIDE STANDS, AND CSA FARM BOXES. Copyright © 2011 by Sheri Castle. Photographs © 2011 by Stewart Waller. Used by permission of the University of North Carolina Press.

Please be nice. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without permission is prohibited. Feel free to excerpt and link, just give credit where credit is due and send folks to my website, virginiawillis.com. Thanks so much.

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