Finding Inspiration in Seasonal Recipes

Watermelon lemonde with backyard mint
Watermelon lemonade with backyard mint from "Eat Fresh Food"

Most nights I cook without recipes, but once in a while I feel like trying something new and turn to a trusted cookbook or online recipe source for inspiration. This week my tween suggested we make watermelon lemonade from his birthday present, the cookbook Eat Fresh Food: Awesome Recipes for Teen Chefs by Rozanne Gold. The recipes in this book have been consistently good and accurate, but I knew the half a cup of honey the recipe called for was just too much. Halving it was perfect and the drink was not only beautiful, but refreshing and something a child could easily prepare thanks to an immersion blender. I could have let him scoop the watermelon out of the rind, but I was in a hurry so I trimmed the rind off with my over sized, heavy gauge chef’s knife and made what the kids called a naked watermelon. It’s so easy to cut when it’s naked!

Indian-Style Green Cabbage from Eating Local, a cookbook for local food enthusiasts looking do more with their produce
Indian-Style Green Cabbage from "Eating Local", a cookbook for local food enthusiasts looking do more with their produce

I had a very large head of Chinese cabbage sitting in the fridge and while part of it would be used for cole slaw, the rest needed to be cooked.  After checking for cabbage in the recipe indexes of a few local cookbooks I acquired this summer, I found an interesting one using Indian spices to season shredded cabbage in Eating Local: The Cookbook Inspired by American’s Farmers by Janet Fletcher and Sur la Table. Shredded cabbage cooks quickly and does not require the addition of water in the pan, as the recipe indicates, if you let it drip dry after washing it. I dislike coconut so I omitted it from the recipe. With all the spices, it was still full flavored and satisfying and quite a beautiful color thanks to turmeric.

Zucchini bread from 101 Cookbooks is moist and flavorful
Zucchini bread from "101 Cookbooks" is moist and flavorful

Zucchini – I have it coming at me from all directions and I love it. My tween and I made zucchini bread using a very interesting recipe from 101 Cookbooks that included whole wheat flour, poppy seeds, walnuts and candied ginger. We omitted the curry powder and if I had to do it again, I’d add the shredded zucchini at the end, not with the other wet ingredients as the recipe instructs. The batter “broke” after I added the shredded zucchini to the butter, sugar and egg mixture, but did look fine once I added the dry ingredients. Tip: Shred the zucchini and then let it sit for at least 10 minutes. Then squeeze the water from the zucchini, fluff it back up, and measure it for the recipe. The bread is a hit with the whole family and I was glad to use up an enormous zucchini and have two loaves to enjoy. When using very large zucchini, halve it lengthwise and remove the tough seeds by running a large spoon down the center.

Mario Batali's Pennette with Summer Squash and Ricotta
Mario Batali's Pennette with Summer Squash and Ricotta

Penne rigate, ricotta, lemons, zucchini, Parmigiano-Regggiano and some fresh herbs are all that are needed to make this simple dish by chef/restauranteur Mario Batali that ran in the weekend edition of The Wall Street Journal. This healthy dinner is a really quick and delicious way to make great use of summer squash and the herbs overflowing in our gardens. Batali recommends under cooking pasta, then finishing it in the pan with the sauce ingredients and a little pasta water. It’s a great technique that really brings the dish together. I used half a pound of whole wheat penne pasta rather than the recommended full pound  and added a bit more zucchini for a heavier vegetable to pasta ratio. Be sure to have some extra cheese at the table as the recipe suggests and don’t be shy with the herbs.

Where do you turn for inspiration when cooking with local, seasonal ingredients?

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