Reaping the harvest of late summer

Arugula and tomato salad. BY JACK CLEMONS
August 19, 2013

Next week, I’ll be conducting a cooking class at the Cordrey Center to showcase the fresh produce available this time of year. Tomatoes are in abundant supply (more about the Historic Lewes Farmers Market Tomato Festival in next week’s column), and summer squash are living up to their reputation for prodigious growth. Thanks to the weather conditions, forecasters are predicting a bumper crop of corn, which is already plentiful at roadside stands and local markets.

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Clemons to host cooking demo, tasting

Clearly, these are the ingredients to feature. I just need to select a set of recipes for the specific dishes and organize my comments to keep the audience entertained.

I also have to look at the cooking times and sequence of activities to make sure the dishes will be ready to eat in the right order and before everyone is ready to leave. This should give me a bit more than an hour for the demo and the next 45 minutes for eating and socializing.

Another thing I need to do is keep the preparations steps from being too boring (watching someone chop vegetables for 30 minutes could be a yawner) or too noisy (wielding a hand mixer to make whipped cream is somewhat ill advised in this setting). The expansive kitchen at the Cordrey Center has a stovetop with several gas burners, which is fine for a summer menu; we won’t even consider using the oven.

The four dishes for the evening include a soup, salad, entrée and dessert. Of these, the salad will be the one you see in the photo. Cherry tomatoes are tossed in lemony vinaigrette with crumbled feta cheese and served atop peppery arugula. The overall flavor is a combination of bright lemon, tart vinegar and sweet tomatoes. Cutting the tomatoes in half ensures their juices enhance the dressing and the herbs season the tomatoes.

Since this is August, a chilled fruit soup seems in order. I’ve tried cucumber and yogurt before, as well as a cantaloupe soup. For something a little different, I’ll try a watermelon soup. The entire recipe requires some peeling and chopping of the ingredients, followed by a few pulses in the food processor. Since it will need to be chilled before serving, I’ll make enough in advance to keep in the refrigerator. During the class, I’ll show how it’s made, but serve the batch that’s already reached the correct temperature. One of my favorite summer entrées is pasta primavera.

The recipe I prefer and one that should work well for the class doesn’t require a sauce; instead we’ll watch it make its own with melted cheese and sautéed vegetables. In the recipe below, I’ve called for ricotta, but shredded fresh mozzarella works just as well - don’t use packaged mozzarella because it won’t melt into the hot pasta the way a softer cheese will.

Finally, for dessert I’ll want something filled with beautiful berries. A blueberry pie (even with a lattice top) isn’t unusual enough and has the unfortunate requirement of time spent in a hot oven. Berries in a bowl topped with whipped cream isn’t much of a challenge. And, fruit-studded ice cream or berry sorbet - although perfect summer treats - need a great deal of attention before serving, so they wouldn’t work in a classroom setting.

Although I don’t own a trifle bowl (a tall, footed dish with straight sides) the dessert to fill it is just the right one for the demo. I’ll bake a pound cake in advance and show how the trifle layers are arranged as the teachable moment (followed by several eat-able moments).

Now that I have the evening planned, you know what to expect if you decide to attend. However, if there are any substitute ingredients that catch my eye at the farmers market this week, I’ll reserve the right to change my mind at the last minute.

Tomato Feta Salad

juice & zest of 1 lemon
2 green onions
2 T olive oil
1 T rice wine vinegar
1/2 C crumbled feta
salt & pepper, to taste
1 lb cherry tomatoes
2 T snipped chives

In a serving bowl, combine the lemon zest and lemon juice. Thinly slice green onions and stir into lemon juice. Add olive oil, vinegar, feta, salt and pepper; whisk to combine. Cut cherry tomatoes in half and add to bowl; toss gently to coat tomatoes with vinaigrette. Garnish with snipped chives and serve on arugula leaves. Yield: 4 servings.

Watermelon Soup

1 cucumber
1/2 lb chopped tomatoes
1 1/2 lb seeded watermelon cubes
1/4 C mint leaves
1/4 C olive oil
2 T lemon juice
4 oz goat cheese

Peel and dice the cucumber and place in the bowl of a food processor with tomatoes, watermelon, mint leaves and olive oil. Process until blended, but still a bit chunky. Whisk in lemon juice. Chill for 1 hour before serving. Ladle into bowls and garnish with goat cheese crumbles. Yield: 6 to 8 servings.

Pasta Primavera

1 lb whole wheat rotini
3 T olive oil
1 minced shallot
2 pressed garlic cloves
1 yellow squash
1 zucchini
2 ears of corn
1 lb broccoli florets
1 1/2 C ricotta cheese
1/3 C shredded parmesan cheese
salt & pepper, to taste
6 basil leaves, shredded
red pepper flakes, optional

Cook the pasta according to the package directions. Drain, reserving 1/2 C of pasta water, and set aside. While the pasta is cooking, add the olive oil to a large saucepan and heat over medium. Add the shallot and sauté until softened, about 2 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 90 seconds. Slice the squash and zucchini into 3/8-inch thick rounds (slicing them first in half lengthwise if they are too fat). Scrape the kernels from the corncobs with a sharp knife. Add all the vegetables to the pan, cover and steam over medium high, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 10 minutes. Add pasta and cheese to pan, toss to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper; garnish with basil and red pepper flakes (if desired). Yield: 8 servings.

Berry Trifle

juice and zest of 1 lemon
3 T sugar
1/4 C water
1 loaf pound cake
8 oz softened cream cheese
1/3 C sugar
1 C whipping cream
2 C strawberries
2 C blueberries
2 C blackberries

Combine the lemon juice and zest with 3 T sugar and water in a small saucepan.

Bring to a boil over medium, stirring constantly until the sugar has dissolved. Remove from heat and set aside. Cut pound cake into one-half-inch slices. Using a silicon brush, lightly coat both sides of each slice with the lemon syrup. Cut each slice into quarters and set aside. In a mixing bowl, whip the cream cheese and 1/3 C sugar until light and fluffy.

Add the whipping cream and continue beating until soft peaks form. Rinse and drain the berries. If strawberries are larger than bite size, cut lengthwise into halves or thirds. To assemble the trifle, layer one half the cake pieces in the bottom of a 2-quart glass bowl or trifle dish. Spread with half the whipped cream mixture and cover evenly with one half of the berries.

Repeat process with remaining cake, cream and fruit. Refrigerate for one hour before serving. Yield: 8 servings.