Tasty ideas for enjoying summer’s bounty

We live in a horticultural paradise, and one of the many joys of living here is the anticipation of local seasonal foods.

It’s a nonstop cornucopia well into winter, and right now we’ve got a rainbow of produce to consider. Here’s a bit of inspiration for ways to enjoy the bounty.

Green Beans with Balsamic Pesto

When summer green beans are tender and full of sweetness, this pesto sets them off as little else can.

1-1/2 pounds young and slender green beans, trimmed

About 1/3 cup homemade or store-bought pesto

4 to 5 tablespoons balsamic vinegar, blended with 1/2 teaspoon dark brown sugar

Additional grated Italian Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Pour about 2 inches of water into a 6-quart pot. Place a collapsible steamer in the pot, cover, and bring the water to a fierce boil. Pile the beans in the steamer, cover the pot, and steam for 6 minutes, or until the beans are tender-crisp.

Turn the beans into a shallow serving bowl. Add the pesto to the beans, stirring in the vinegar/sugar mixture. Toss to thoroughly coat, then sprinkle on some more cheese and toss again. Serve hot or let cool slightly.

Adapted from “The Splendid Table,” by Lynne Rossetto Kasper.

Pasta Al Pesto with Cream, Green Beans, and Potatoes

Green beans and potatoes? It’s an Italian classic, so give it a try while both are at their height of production around here.

2 teaspoons salt

3 tablespoons olive oil

1/4 pound young and slender green beans, trimmed and halved or left whole

1/2 pound small red, white, or Yukon Gold potatoes

2 cloves garlic, crushed and minced

1/3 cup homemade or store-bought pesto

1/2 cup heavy cream

1/2 pound dry penne pasta

Salt and pepper to taste

Garnish: grated Parmesan cheese

Bring 4 quarts of water to a boil with the 2 teaspoons of salt and 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Parboil the green beans for 2 minutes, then remove and plunge into ice water to stop the cooking and set the color.

Place the potatoes with the peel on in the pot of water and boil for 10 to 15 minutes, just until tender. Drain the potatoes, cool, and slice 1/4-inch thick.

Heat a frying pan and add the remaining 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and the 2 cloves of garlic. Saute for 30 seconds over medium-high heat, then add the potatoes and green beans. saute 3 to 5 minutes, until the vegetables are tender.

Mix the pesto with the cream and set aside. Boil the pasta in lightly salted water until al dente. Drain well and return to the pot. Add the sauteed beans and potatoes and the pesto cream. Toss all together and add salt and pepper to taste if needed, along with a generous sprinkling of the Parmesan cheese. Serve with additional Parmesan at the table.

Adapted from “The Frugal Gourmet,” by Jeff Smith.

Simply Baked Walla Walla Sweets with Pesto

Another great use for two of summer’s gifts, basil and sweet onions. It’s a delicious accompaniment to grilled meats or a pasta with meat and tomato sauce.

2 Walla Walla Sweet onions

1/2 cup homemade or store-bought pesto

Slice a thin portion from the top and bottom of each onion. Then slice each unpeeled onion in half, horizontally (through the widest part). Place the onions cut side up, in a baking dish, spread about 2 tablespoons of pesto on top of each onion, and place in the oven. Bake in a 350-degree oven for about 30 to 35 minutes, or until the onions are tender and the pesto slightly browned and bubbly. Yields 4 servings.

Marinated and Grilled Veggies (with Portobello Mushroom Burger Option)

This is my all-time favorite way to grill a pile of fresh vegetables. Use them as a tasty side-dish straight off the grill, or pile them into pocket bread or onto thick slices of a hearty, rustic Italian bread. After marinating in my zesty marinade for an hour or two, I drain the vegetables and simply stir-fry them over charcoal or gas grill. This requires a special grilling pan with small holes so that small pieces of food or fish won’t fall through during cooking. If you don’t have one, this is the perfect excuse to make the purchase.

For the marinade:

1/3 cup red or white wine vinegar

1/4 cup dry red wine (such as Zinfandel, cabernet or pinot noir)

2 tablespoons soy sauce

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

3 cloves finely minced garlic

2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Vegetables for grilling:

1/4 pound mushrooms (halved or whole, depending on size)

1 red bell pepper, seeded and cut in strips

1 yellow bell pepper, seeded and cut in strips

2 summer squash, sliced

1 whole sweet onion, cut into thin strips or rings

Combine the vinegar, wine, soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, salt, pepper, garlic and olive oil. Place the vegetables in one large container or 2 zip-close plastic bags. Pour the marinade over the vegetables and let marinate for 1 to 2 hours.

When ready to cook, remove the vegetables from the marinade (the marinade will keep for a couple of weeks, so refrigerate in a sealed jar for another round of veggies within that time-frame). Place the grill pan on top of the grill grate over hot coals or gas flame and let it heat through. Lightly grease the grill pan or spray with a nonstick cooking spray. Add the vegetables and let them cook, turning and tossing the veggies as you would for a stir-fry, until they’re lightly golden and cooked through.

Remove from heat. Delicious with rice, polenta, grilled meats, chicken and fish, or even in a sandwich.

Portobello Mushroom Burger Alternative: Prepare the marinade as directed above. Place portobello mushrooms in a zip-close plastic bag, pour on the marinade, and marinate up to 2 hours. Remove the mushrooms from the marinade and grill, turning once, until golden and soft. Meanwhile, toast the cut sides of hamburger buns. Prepare the buns with mayonnaise and a bit of lettuce, tomato and onion. Top with the grilled mushrooms and top portion of bun.

Bruschetta with Tomatoes and Aioli with Stone Ground Mustard

Makes 16 pieces of bruschetta.

This is one of my favorite recipes for drop-dead delicious backyard-ripe summer tomatoes. And once you’ve done all the preliminary prep, this is one of those summer appetizers that is asssembled in moments. And it’s always (and I mean always!) A hit. The results are worthy of every extra step you take toward a perfect rendition. For instance, I HIGHLY recommend you make the balsamic vinegar reduction. It’s a zesty and delightful garnish.

8 (1/2-inch thick) slices good-quality crusty Italian-style bread

About 1/2 cup of Quick Aioli with Stone Ground Mustard (see recipe above)

3 ripe medium-sized tomatoes, chopped and drained

6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (see note below)

3 slices bacon, fried, drained, and minced

1/4 cup fresh arugula, finely chopped

Salt and freshly ground pepper

About 1/2 cup crumbled good quality blue cheese

2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar

Balsamic Vinegar (or balsamic vinegar reduction, see note below)

Grill or toast the bread until nicely browned on both sides (this can be done earlier in the day). Cut each piece of toasted bread in half.

When ready to serve, spread one side of each slice with a generous slathering of the Quick Aioli with Stone Ground Mustard. Combine the tomatoes, olive oil, bacon, and arugula in a small bowl (I don’t recommend doing this too far in advance because the tomatoes render too much of their juice). Toss gently and season with salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Spoon the mixture onto the grilled bread. Top each serving with a portion of the blue cheese, and then drizzle on a bit of the balsamic vinegar (or balsamic vinegar reduction). Serve immediately.

Quick Aioli with Stone Ground Mustard: Place 1 tablespoon fresh-squeezed lemon juice and 3 large peeled cloves of garlic in a blender jar. Add 1 cup good quality mayonnaise (I use Best Foods) and blend, turning the motor on and off and scraping the sides of bhe blender jar often, until the mixture is smooth and creamy. With the motor running, add 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil in a slow, steady stream. You may have to stop the motor and give the sauce a brief stir midway through. Scrape the sauce into a small container, then stir in 1 tablespoon stone ground mustard (I use Inglehoffer Original Stone Ground Mustard). The sauce will keep for weeks in the refrigerator (just like commercially made mayonnaise). Makes a scant 1-1/4 cups.

Balsamic Vinegar Reduction: This is easy to make and a delight to have during tomato season. Store the reduction in a tightly closed jar. It will keep for months and months! Use it to drizzle over tomatoes and fresh mozzarella, or to jazz up a vegetable saute or to drizzle over roasting vegetables. To turn an average balsamic vinegar into a very rich and flavorful one, pour 2 cups of balsamic vinegar in a heavy-bottomed saucepan. Add 1/2 cup coarsely chopped yellow onion, 1 coarsely chopped clove of garlic, and about 10 or 12 peppercorns. Bring the mixture to a boil and simmer until the mixture has reduced down to about 1/2 cup and is thickened and somewhat syrupy. Let the mixture cool and then strain through a fine sieve (be sure and press the onions and garlic with the back of a wooden spoon to squeeze out all of the juicy balsamic vinegar).

Jan Roberts-Dominguez is a Corvallis food writer, artist and author of “Oregon Hazelnut Country, the Food, the Drink, the Spirit,” and four other cookbooks. Contact her at janrd@proaxis.com, and see her blog at www.janrd.com.

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