What’s Cooking: Herbs add spark to summer’s produce

07/09/2014 12:00 AM

07/07/2014 2:22 PM

This is the best time of year for people who love food because fresh corn, tomatoes, green beans, squash, blueberries, watermelon and cantaloupe are plentiful. They’re delicious by themselves, but they can taste even better with a sprinkle or two of fresh herbs.

Like vegetables and fruits, herbs are available at the farm stand or supermarket, but they’re best when snipped from a pot in your backyard and used immediately.

It’s a little late to start herbs from seeds for a nice harvest, but the plants are available at farmers markets and garden centers. Basil, thyme and rosemary can still be planted for good results, herbalist Melinda Boyer said.

Boyer, owner of New Day Herb and Native Plant Farm, shares a few tips for harvesting fresh herbs:

• It is best to harvest all herbs in the afternoon on a dry sunny day before blooming. This is when the plants have the most flavor and aroma. Herbal blooms are edible and can be used in cooking and food. Sprinkle them on salads, and summer soups, or use as garnishes.
•  Cutting and pruning herbs is what keeps them healthy. Otherwise, they become spindly and die. Boyer suggests topping herbs like basil and rosemary. Never cut them to the ground. They have shallow root systems and will not survive. Prune the top buds of basil often.

RECIPES

Peach gazpacho

Makes 5 1/2 to 6 cups

Serves 6

Less-than-perfect peaches, or those that are overripe, are just the ticket for this savory soup. Recipe from The Washington Post.

Make ahead: The soup needs to be refrigerated for at least 2 hours and up to overnight.

INGREDIENTS

6 to 8 soft to mushy peaches, peeled, pitted and cut into quarters (see Note below on peeling peaches)

1/2 medium cucumber, peeled, seeded and cut into chunks

1 small clove garlic, minced

1 tablespoon champagne vinegar or white balsamic vinegar

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling

1/2 teaspoon coarse sea or kosher salt, or more to taste

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or more to taste

1/2 to 3/4 cup water

2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh cilantro or flat-leaf parsley leaves

Red bell pepper slices and peeled avocado slices, for garnish (optional)

INSTRUCTIONS

Combine the peaches, cucumber, garlic, vinegar, oil, salt, pepper and 1/2 cup of the water in a food processor; pulse to form a puréed soup. If the consistency seems too thick, add the remaining 1/4 cup water and pulse just to incorporate.

Transfer to a bowl, cover and refrigerate for at least 2 hours and up to overnight.

Just before serving, taste the soup and adjust the seasoning as needed. Stir in the cilantro or parsley. Divide among individual bowls. Drizzle each portion with a little oil. Garnish with the bell pepper and avocado, if desired. Serve right away.

Note: To peel peaches, score an X in the bottom of each fruit. Place in a large bowl of just-boiled or very hot water, just long enough for the skin on the bottom to release. Drain; peel when cool enough to handle.

Per serving: 110 calories; 5 g fat (1 g sat.); 0 chol.; 160 mg sodium; 17 g carb. 3 g fiber; 15 g sugar; 2g protein.

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Zucchini soup with Parmigiano-Reggiano and basil

Serves 4 to 6

This recipe uses a lot of squash, lightly caramelized, then simmered and pulverized. The result is almost too thick and chunky to be called a soup, but that means it's substantial enough to serve for dinner.

You can top it with cooked, shredded chicken and a dollop of pesto for the very hungry omnivores among you. The quantity makes next-day leftovers a reality. Serve with crusty bread.

Recipe from The Washington Post.

INGREDIENTS

8 medium zucchini

1 medium yellow onion

6 to 8 scallions

Leaves from 4 to 6 stems flat-leaf parsley

3 cloves garlic

6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt, plus more as needed

3/4 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper

About 6 large basil leaves, plus more for garnish

2 cups water, or more as needed

Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, for garnish

INSTRUCTIONS

Trim the zucchini ends, then cut each vegetable into chunks. Finely chop the onion, scallions, parsley and garlic; piling them together is OK.

Heat 1/4 cup of the oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Once the oil shimmers, add one-third of the zucchini chunks and stir to coat. Cook for a few minutes, just until the bottom side is golden and lightly caramelized, then transfer to a mixing bowl. Repeat two more times (no need to add more oil) to use of all the zucchini.

Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil to the pot. Once it shimmers, add the onion-scallion mixture and stir to coat. Season with 1/4 teaspoon of the salt and 1/4 teaspoon of the pepper. Reduce the heat to medium; cover and cook for about 8 minutes, so the vegetables soften.

Coarsely chop the 6 basil leaves.

Return the zucchini to the pot, then season with the remaining teaspoon of salt and 1/2 teaspoon of pepper. Stir in the water, which will not quite cover the zucchini. Increase the heat to high and cook just until bubbles form at the edges, then reduce the heat to medium-low, cover and cook for about 12 minutes. The zucchini should be soft but not disintegrating. Stir in the chopped basil.

Use an immersion (stick) blender to purée the mixture into a thick soup that retains some small chunks of zucchini. If it's too thick for your liking, add water as needed. Remove from the heat. Taste, and adjust seasoning as needed.

Divide among individual bowls or deep cups. Tear a few basil leaves over each portion, then grate a little Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese over each one as well. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Per serving (based on 6): 180 calories; 14 g fat (2 g sat.(; 0 chol.; 430 mg sodium; 12 g carb.; 4 g fiber; 6 g sugar; 4 g protein

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Chicken sausage with squash and fresh herbs

Salty olives and capers and a good-quality chicken sausage make all the difference in this Paleo Diet-friendly main course. To reduce prep time further, shop at a salad bar for cut vegetables. Feel free to add red bell peppers, eggplant or tomatoes, and adjust the cooking time accordingly.

Serves 4

INGREDIENTS

1 medium red onion

12 ounces cooked chicken sausage (in links), such as apple chicken sausage

2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more as needed

1 1/2 pounds mixed summer squash and zucchini

1/2 cup mixed fresh flat-leaf parsley, basil and/or thyme leaves

1/2 cup pitted kalamata olives (about 25)

1/4 teaspoon salt, or more to taste

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or more to taste

1/4 cup capers, drained

1/2 lemon

INSTRUCTIONS

Cut the onion into very thin slices. Cut the sausage crosswise into 2-inch chunks.

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the sausage chunks and onion; cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 to 12 minutes. The sausage should be browned and cooked through, and the onion should be softened and lightly browned; transfer them to a plate.

Meanwhile, cut the squash and zucchini into 1-inch chunks. Coarsely chop the herbs. Cut each olive in half.

Add the squash and zucchini to the skillet; cook, stirring occasionally, for about 8 minutes or until just tender. Season with the salt and pepper, then return the sausage and onion to the skillet. Add the olives and capers, stirring to incorporate.

Squeeze the juice from the lemon half over the mixture in the skillet; cook until the mixture is evenly heated through. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed. Remove from the heat, then stir in the herbs.

Divide among individual plates. Serve warm.

Per serving: 320 calories; 21g fat (4 g sat.); 65 mg chol.; 1,310 mg sodium; 17 g carb.; 4 g fiber; 9 g sugar; 17 g protein.

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Mahi mahi with basil butter and zucchini ribbons and grape tomatoes

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cook time: 20 minutes

Serves 4

This recipe also works with salmon. Use the grill instead of the broiler if you like.

Recipe from and tested by Susan Selasky from the Detroit Free Press.

INGREDIENTS

Basil butter:

¾ cup fresh basil leaves, torn

2 tablespoons butter, softened

1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

¼ teaspoon salt

1 garlic clove, minced, optional

Fish:

4 mahi mahi pieces, about 5 ounces each

1 teaspoon Morton Nature’s Seasons seasoning blend

Zucchini and tomatoes:

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 shallots, peeled, sliced (about 1⁄3 cup)

2 garlic cloves, minced

3 cups grape or cherry tomatoes, halved

½ cup dry white wine

2 tablespoons capers, well-drained

2 tablespoons white or dark balsamic vinegar

2 medium zucchini, sliced lengthwise into ribbons

¼ cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

INSTRUCTIONS

Preheat the broiler.

To prepare basil butter: In a small bowl, stir together all the ingredients and set aside.

Lightly coat a broiler pan with cooking spray. Place the mahimahi on the pan and sprinkle with the seasoning blend. Cook 4-5 minutes on each side or until desired degree of doneness.

To make the zucchini and tomatoes: Meanwhile, in a large skillet heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add shallots and garlic cloves and sauté 3 minutes. Add tomatoes and sauté 2 minutes. Stir in the wine, capers and vinegar. Bring to a boil. Add the zucchini ribbons; reduce the heat and simmer about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in parsley. Set aside.

When the fish is done, arrange a few zucchini ribbons on each plate. Top with a piece of fish. Scatter the remaining tomatoes and skillet ingredients on top of the fish and garnish with a teaspoon or so of the basil butter.

Per serving (including basil butter): 286 calories (34% from fat), 11 grams fat (5 grams sat. fat), 11 grams carb.;, 36 grams protein, 688 mg sodium, 148 mg cholesterol, 3 grams fiber.

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