For most people, the heat of the dog days of summer dissuades even the most enthusiastic cook from stepping foot in the kitchen. According to Melissa Clark, in her article for yesterday's New York Times, diehard home cooks in New York are turning to toaster ovens to prepare their multi-course dinner parties just to avoid turning on the main oven.
I have another suggestion. If you can't stand the heat in the kitchen, come to San Francisco, where the thermometer rarely rises above 70˚F/21˚C, especially during summer (although this week has been a scorching 74˚F/23˚C--time for shorts and sandals!).
So, San Franciscans rejoice! In the spirit of this month's Eat Local Challenge, I want to recommend a late summer dish that requires roasting (if it is indeed hot where you are, it will work in a decent toaster oven like Ms. Clark lists here).
A photo and recipe in the August/September issue of Saveur inspired me to stuff some of our beautiful peppers, tomatoes and zucchinis and roast them. The article, on a bullfighting festival in Nîmes in the Languedoc-Roussillon region of southern France, also featured a terrific sounding tourte de brandade that Molly of Orangette recently prepared for a picnic just outside Seattle.
The secret to stuffed summer vegetables, as in any simply prepared dish, is to use the best quality ingredients available to you. Take the time to go to your farmers market and buy locally grown, preferably oraganic, vegetables. I chose the squat, thick-walled, lipstick-red pimiento peppers and round, pale green ronde de nice squash from Andy of Mariquita Farm and the impossibly sweet dry-farmed Early Girl tomatoes from Dirty Girl Farm (yes, they have T-Shirts...and even hoodies) that Pim of Chez Pim describes so beautifully here (my God, I've plugged two other blogs in one post!). Small eggplants would work well for this recipe too. Click "continue" for recipe.
Stuffed Summer Vegetables
(Adapted from Saveur)
2-3 small round summer squash
2-3 medium tomatoes
2-3 small peppers, any color, preferably squat and thick skinned
4 T extra virgin olive oil
2 1-inch thick slices of artisan bread, crusts removed
1/4 c milk
1/2 lb. plain pork sausage (lamb sausage would be a great variation)
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1/4 onion, minced
2 T parsley, chopped
2 T grated parmesan cheese
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Preheat oven to 375˚F/190˚C. Trim tops off summer squash, tomatoes and peppers and scoop out flesh, leaving a 1/2-inch-thick shell. You can use a melon baller on the squash and, if you have one, a serated grapefruit spoon on the tomatoes. Reserve and chop all the trimmings from these two vegetables. For the peppers, use a paring knife to cut out the ribs and seeds, then discard. Place the vegetables in a baking dish that will fit them snuggly, cavity sides up. Season all the vegetables with salt and drizzle with 1 T of the oil.
Tear one of the slices of bread into hazelnut-sized chunks, so that you end up with about a 1/3 c. Place in a bowl and cover with milk, soaking it until it softens. Tear the other piece of bread into smaller pieces (or use a food processor) to make fresh breadcrumbs and set aside.
Over medium-low heat, sweat the onion in 1 T oil. After begins to turn translucent, about 5 minutes, add chopped garlic and the reserved, chopped zucchini and tomato and continue to cook 10-15 minutes longer, until most of the liquid has evaporated. Place cooked vegetables in a medium-sized bowl and allow to cool slightly.
Squeeze excess milk out of the soaked bread and add to bowl with the cooked vegetables. Add sausage and parsley, season with salt and pepper, and mix well, but with a light touch. Spoon stuffing into each of the vegetable shells up to the top, making sure vegetables sit upright. Then, sprinkle the tops of the vegetables with bread crumbs, then parmesan, and finally drizzle with remaining oil. Bake for 1 hour. Can be served warm or room temperature.