How To Eat Your Vegetables

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Since I read Tamar Adler‘s book a month or so back (yes, I’m late to the party as usual), Sundays will find me, at a minimum, roasting a couple of big platters of vegetables to tuck away for the week ahead.

weekly ritual

This sort of cooking ahead is more important than ever now that Julian’s diet has shifted mostly to solids, and we want to provide him with an abundance of tasty, seasonal vegetables in a format that’s easy for him to eat – and that’s easy for both his work-at-home Daddy and office-working Mommy to prepare and eat as well.

It’s also nice to have something easy to throw together for dinner after, say, a long weekend away, when you return home to a near-empty fridge and the thought of another meal out makes you want to stab yourself with a fork.

marinated roast vegetables

Enter our trusty jar of slow-roasted vegetables, a mix of yellow and green zucchini, young eggplant, and candy-sweet golden tomatoes, caramelized and bathed in a soft marinade of cider and champagne vinegars and plenty of fruity olive oil. I’ve tossed these with pasta, layered them in a warmed pita with our favorite local hummus, served them on a bed of wheatberries, or with salty French feta alongside, and on this night, I scattered them over a base of prepared whole wheat dough spread with creme fraiche and dotted with soft goat cheese – a rustic tart, of sorts.

Dinner: August 27, 2012

Julian ate his straight, once it had cooled enough to touch, and devoured room-temperature leftovers the next day, eating crust and cheese first, then gathering up any vegetables that had dropped off and popping them into his mouth one by one. I topped the grown-ups’ portions with big handfuls of raw arugula, a drizzle of red wine vinegar, and lots of cracked black pepper.

the grown-ups' part

A meal that took a minimum of time and effort to put together, packed with vegetables and loaded with flavor, that all three of us loved? You can’t get much better than that.

Brooklyn-based

Hello, New York.

Long story very short, we’re back. Some of the story is already out there in bits and pieces, and I’ll probably write down a fuller recount of the events of the last two weeks somewhere soon, but for now, I just felt the need to post a little something here. It seems right and appropriate – after all, Last Night’s Dinner was born in Brooklyn.

A good 95% of our stuff – furniture, clothes, kitchen and pantry supplies – are still locked up in a Providence storage facility, but we brought a few essentials to get us started in our new home. We have our trusty iron skillet, two plates, two bowls, flatware and glasses for two, my favorite chef’s knife, a small pot, mixing bowl, rasp and reamer – just enough to get us going, and sustain us until the rest of our belongings arrive. At least we hope that’s the case.

Went out for a walk. Stumbled upon a greenmarket.

Our new kitchen is smallish but modern – long and narrow, but with a big window to let in the light and air, plus a brand new fridge, stove, and dishwasher (!). And on Sunday, the day after we landed here, we headed out for supplies. The Flatbush Food Co-Op was our destination, just a short walk away, but we were happily surprised to find that the Cortelyou Greenmarket was in full swing as well. We returned home with a bounty of local goods, and cooked our first meal in our new home that night: sauteed blackfish, zucchini and squash blossoms with lots of fresh young garlic, thyme and lemon, paired with a bottle of Wolffer Estate rose. To my delight, the baby ate a little bit of everything.

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It’s so good to be back home.

Heartaches, Bellyaches

What do you cook when your heart hurts?

For us, for the last few weeks, it was a whole lot of comfort food. There was pasta, lots and lots of pasta, sauced with ragu, in skillet mac and cheese, and in Michael Ruhlman’s macaroni and beef with cheese (which is better than it has any right to be). There was chicken, pan fried and roasted, with one of those roasted birds serving to provide a very special last supper for our Kali.

If you fill in the blanks, the dinners I didn’t photograph over the last few weeks, the other meals that were part of those days, you’d see a whole bunch of crap. If we could get ourselves to eat at all, it was mostly junk food, fatty, poorly fried, the kind of stuff you grab and choke down because you realize it’s 2:30 in the afternoon and you’ve been up since 5:45 and you haven’t had it in you to eat anything yet, but your hands are shaking and you can’t focus on work, and you don’t have time to take a proper break to get something reasonably healthy or good, to sit for a moment and eat mindfully, or because you’re feeling rough around the edges in the morning and need something akin to a “hangover breakfast,” all caffeine and questionable meat on a grease-sodden breakfast pastry (don’t forget the cheese).

And your heart hurts.

Weeks of eating too much rich food, of too many “one more glass”-es of wine, of the stress and the heartache Mike and I have been feeling of late have left us both in a sad state, feeling as bad physically as we have been emotionally, and this weekend, we thought long and hard about how to pull ourselves out of this rut and get back our equilibrium.

And we made strides.

We broke out our new pressure canner and put up a total of 20 pints of crushed tomatoes, locally grown and perfectly ripe, to nourish us during the winter. I’d never canned anything before, and Mike hadn’t been part of the process since he was a kid helping his family do it, and it was an absolutely thrilling, terrifying, wonderful project to tackle with my husband, a productive activity we took on together and loved, and a very welcome distraction from our grief.

fairytale eggplants

And we came up with a plan. Vegetables.

discs

It’s harvest time, our farmers’ markets are teeming with produce, we just needed to plan, and buy, and cook. And eat. And we have, and we will continue to do so.

so-so

We started with an imperfect put delicious ratatouille, my loose interpretation of Deb’s interpretation of Remy’s/Keller’s, and imperfect as it was, it was so tasty and satisfying.

Dinner: September 20, 2010

It was a wonderful start. And now we have juices and whole grains and oily fishies and crisp apples and our favorite locally made yogurt, and the vegetables, the glorious vegetables to look forward to, and we’ll be healing our bellies, hearts, and souls with them for many weeks to come while we get our lives back into balance. And I hope to share it all with you in the days ahead.

And once again, thank you.

Dinner and a Movie

So after our big day yesterday (which you can now get a sneak peek at on Projo.com), I was eager to tuck into one of my husband‘s homemade pizzas for dinner. After our meat-heavy weekend, we elected to go for a vegetarian pie topped with a few fresh, seasonal goodies.

Mike dressed his standard crust with a layer of Amanda Hesser’s deliciously jammy roasted cherry tomatoes (from this food52 recipe), a blend of cheeses (including our favorite fresh mozz from Narragansett Creamery), and thin mandolined slices of zucchini.

Dinner: September 7, 2010

I gave the pizza a shower of freshly grated Pecorino Romano when it came out of the oven, along with a sprinkle of fresh marjoram leaves and a drizzle of Sicilian olive oil. The roasted tomatoes made for a delicious “sauce”, melting down even further into little orbs bursting with concentrated tomato flavor, and we loved how the paper-thin zucchini crisped and melded into the cheese.

The marjoram, too, was a welcome change from basil, with a deeper, earthier flavor to complement the more concentrated flavor of the roasted tomato “sauce”, a gentle reminder a that cooler weather and heartier fare are not too far away.

Changes and Chilled Soup

purslane and zucchini

The last year and a half of our lives has brought change on many fronts – our relocation, members of the family gained and lost, changes to our employment and income level, and the continuation of a change we had already begun with respect to the way we cook and eat. We still love our meat, but the kind of meat that we buy doesn’t come cheap, so we’re buying less of it, stretching what we do buy, and planning more meatless meals.

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Mike said to me that if I had told him a year ago he’d be eating, and feeling satisfied by, a nearly vegan meal like the one we had last night, he wouldn’t have believed it, but there we were, sitting at our table with empty bowls in front of us and bellies full of wedges of one perfect summer tomato, a tiny bit of cheese, and a truly delicious, totally meat-free soup. I had spotted the recipe in the current issue of Food and Wine, a chilled puree of zucchini and aromatics topped with lemony purslane, and Mike offered to take it on for Monday night’s dinner.

Dinner:  August 24, 2009

He prepared the soup according to the recipe and left it in the fridge to chill, and when I got home I tasted and tweaked it just a bit, adding a bit more salt and a splash of Champagne vinegar to brighten the flavor. The soup was light and creamy and surprisingly filling, a refreshing dish for a steamy night, and I suspect it would be even better with a swirl of yogurt or creme fraiche added – though it would no longer qualify as a vegan dish. Regardless, this is just the kind of recipe that makes it very easy to eat your vegetables.

Enough

Dinner:  August 20, 2009

My week has gotten unexpectedly crazy, and between the heat and trying to fit 28 hours worth of stuff into 24 hour days, I haven’t been feeling particularly inspired. Our pantry was a bit bare until Mike took my list and did an emergency re-stocking run today, but that wasn’t much help to us last night.

I did, however, have half a package of bucatini and some canned San Marzanos to work with. I also over-bought on zucchini last week, and luckily the last one standing was still in good enough shape to go into our dinner. I softened up a mess of chopped onion in some olive oil, added a couple of sliced garlic cloves and one little fresh red chile pepper (thinly sliced) from a mixed basket that was lingering in the crisper, and when the chile and garlic were fragrant I added the tomatoes and their juices. A little salt, a good squish with a masher to crush the tomatoes, a splash of wine, then I left it to reduce. I added the diced zucchini and cooked it just briefly so it retained some crunch, then tossed in my cooked pasta and a bit of grated pecorino. Not my most creative supper, but it was quick and tasty, and some nights that’s enough.

Summer Layers

I have been battling a dreadful summer cold for nearly a week now, and the comedy of errors that was my Monday didn’t help matters at all. Rhode Island still celebrates V-J day, and because of the holiday the buses were running on a holiday schedule. There was another bus line that could get me to my train on time, but I reached the bottom of the very steep hill we live on just in time to see it whizzing by.

A sticky mile and a half later, I was at the train station, too late for my usual train but just in the nick of time to board the next commuter rail train. I arrived in Boston, trudged through the thick air to my building, and was greeted at my desk by stacks and stacks of files, all demanding my attention. I kept my head down, focused, and made a sizable dent in my backlog by the end of the day, then headed back to South Station, dreaming of home.

I’ll spare you details of the chaotic mess that my evening commute turned into, but suffice it to say that by the time I walked into the kitchen, only comfort food would do – comfort food, and the bottle of Domaine Tempier Bandol rose that had been chilling for days, awaiting the day that my sense of smell and my taste buds returned to normal.

Dinner:  August 10, 2009

So despite the heat, I turned on the oven and got to work on this summer vegetable gratin. I built many layers of colorful vegetables – thin coins of zucchini and blue potato, ripe red tomato, shaved fennel and sliced eggplant. I spread a garlicky opal basil pesto between each layer, covered the top of my baking dish (I used a loaf pan) loosely with foil, and slid it onto a baking sheet.

After about 30 minutes in a 400 degree oven, I removed the foil and added a mixture of fresh breadcrumbs, grated parmesan, and provencal herbs to the top. It went back into the oven until the topping was golden brown, then I pulled it out of the oven and let it rest briefly before slicing it up to serve. With a little arugula salad and that stunning rose, this meal was just what the doctor ordered.