Taste cherry tomatoes to judge sweetness, acidity

The first of three Great Tomato Tastings drew plenty of appreciative palates, judging from social-media posts around Eat Local Week.

Tasting tomatoes isn’t just a gratuitous gimmick on the part of Eat Local Week organizers. The flavors, and varietal availability, change throughout the growing season. And one of the best ways to home in on the best fruit, of course, is by sampling and comparing as many as possible. More chances are planned Tuesday and Thursday at the Ashland and Medford Rogue Valley Growers and Crafters markets. See more Eat Local events on the Thrive website.

Talking to farmers also can confirm the characteristics of tomatoes. Low acidity used to be a selling point of yellow tomatoes, for example. But these days, tomatoes come in virtually all colors of the rainbow, with varying levels of acidity.

And although cherry tomatoes’ cute size suggests miniaturization techniques common in modern plant breeding, it’s interesting to note that their appearance is more in line with tomatoes of yore. More than five centuries ago, all the earliest tomatoes were tiny yellow, red and green specimens, according to a recent story by the Chicago Tribune.

Some of the most popular cherry-tomato varieties are: Yellow Mini grape tomato, Brandywine cherry tomato, Sunburst cherry tomato, Sweet Olive grape tomato, Gold Nugget cherry tomato and Sun Gold cherry tomato, which inspired this recipe from the Tribune, ready in about 20 minutes.

Likening Sun Golds to “liquid gold, distilled from sunshine,” Tribune Food Editor Joe Gray advises purchasing the cherry tomatoes from farmers markets. And if the fruit isn’t “intensely flavored and wonderfully sweet,” he says, move on to the next grower’s stall and keep looking.

Or maybe, like me, you already have Sun Golds growing in your garden or on a patio. Besides their sweetness, I love cherry tomatoes because they produce for so many months, even after larger varieties are spent. They’re also practically fool-proof to grow, even suited to large containers situated in full sun.

Eating cherry tomatoes out of hand is usually more satisfying than cooking them. But when there’s a bounty, they can be tossed whole into so many dishes, from salads and pastas, on top of bruschetta or pizza, or into a skillet that’s cooked fish fillets or meat cutlets to flavor pan juices. Roast them by tossing with olive oil, some crushed garlic, salt, pepper and a few herbs. Cook in a 375-degree oven for 20 to 25 minutes.

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Sauteed Tomatoes With Sausage and Goat Cheese

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 pint Sun Gold cherry tomatoes, sliced in half

1/4 teaspoon salt, about

4 precooked Italian sausages, about 9 ounces total, sliced crosswise in about 1/2-inch pieces (may substitute 2 fresh Italian sausages, cooking them before slicing into 1/2-inch rounds)

1/2 cup green olives, pitted, cut lengthwise in quarters

2 cups precooked brown rice, heated

1/2 cup fresh goat cheese or blue cheese crumbles

In a large skillet over medium-high heat, heat the olive oil. Add the tomatoes and season with a good pinch of the salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, just until tomatoes begin to soften, for about 2 minutes. (Tomatoes will continue to cook with other ingredients, so they should not cook too much at this stage.)

Stir in the sausage. Turn heat to medium. Cook until just heated through. Off the heat, stir in the olives. Serve in big bowls over the rice, topped with the crumbled cheese.

Makes 2 servings.

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Rise to challenge of eating more local tomatoes

Just when everyone should be sated on summer’s tomatoes, along comes Eat Local Week with several more reasons to fete this glorious fruit.

The Great Tomato Tasting has been a headlining event since Eat Local Week’s inception. And over the past nine years, chances have only grown for tasting why tomatoes epitomize the locavore movement. Read my story from the Thrive-sponsored event’s inaugural year for an explanation.

First up are Saturday, Sept. 13, farmers markets in downtown Ashland, Grants Pass and Medford. From 10 a.m. to noon, shoppers can sample a variety of heirloom, cherry, paste and hybrid tomatoes free of charge, as well as learn about tomato varieties and cooking ideas. Tomato fixes also can be had Tuesday and Thursday, Sept. 16 and 18, at Rogue Valley Growers & Crafters markets in Ashland and Medford, respectively.

As with so many truly fresh, peak-season ingredients, tomatoes often are best when most simply prepared. Thrive’s new cookbook, featured in this week’s A la Carte, presented straightforward recipes for tomato sauce and panzanella in its tomato section.

But tomato innovation also abounds this time of year. One of my favorite sources is The Washington Post’s Top Tomato reader recipe contest. Over my years as Mail Tribune food editor, I rounded up many of these recipes and paired them with a local story. In lieu of that format, I’ll seed this blog throughout Eat Local Week with some new summer tomato recipes from various sources.

Here’s the first, actually disqualified from the Post’s contest for exceeding the maximum number of ingredients allowed. Yet Sakunthala Seetharaman earned kudos from the paper’s food editor, Joe Yonan, who praised the 73-year-old’s Tomato and Tofu Salad for its “riot of flavors and textures.”

Balancing sweet, tart, earthy and spicy, this recipe almost could play as a vegan version of Caprese salad, particularly if the tofu was left in larger chunks or slabs to mimic slices of fresh mozzarella. And in the absence of richness from cheese, there are cashews in Seetharaman’s salad, along with mint and cilantro to intensify the herbaceous note of basil.

And as for tofu’s eligibility within a locavore diet, I’ve rationalized this by purchasing Surata Soyfoods tofu from Eugene. An organic bean curd made using traditional methods for almost 40 years, it’s stocked at several local grocers.

Tomato and Tofu Salad

Photo by Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post

4 ounces firm tofu, drained and cut into 1/2-inch cubes

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt, divided (more as needed)

6 medium tomatoes (about 1 1/2 to 2 pounds), thinly sliced

1 medium red onion, peeled and thinly sliced (about 1 cup)

1/2 cup chopped, fresh cilantro leaves

1/4 cup chopped, fresh basil leaves

1/4 cup chopped, fresh mint leaves

1 jalapeno pepper, stemmed, seeded and chopped

1 tablespoon ginger juice

3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon light-brown sugar

1/2 cup roasted, unsalted cashews, for garnish

Preheat oven to 400 F. Have a rimmed baking sheet at hand, large enough to hold the tofu cubes in a single layer so they don’t touch.

Toss tofu cubes with the oil and 1/4 teaspoon of the salt on baking sheet so they are evenly coated. Roast in preheated oven until golden-brown, for 10 to 20 minutes, using a spatula to turn them every 5 minutes or so. Transfer to a large mixing bowl to cool. (Roasted tofu may be refrigerated for up to 1 week. Let come to room temperature before making salad.)

Add to bowl the tomatoes, onion, cilantro, basil, mint and jalapeno; toss to combine. Pour in the ginger juice and lemon juice, and sprinkle with the cumin, brown sugar and remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt. Toss well.

Taste and add salt as needed. Top with the cashews; serve right away. Makes 4 servings.

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Dukkah dresses up hummus, spreads and dippers

A bland, beige persona belies traditional hummus’ complex conveyance of zesty garlic and lemon with earthy chickpeas and tahini.

And the Middle Eastern staple often is dressed up with still more flavors, such as olive oil and pine nuts, or sprinklings of sumac and za’atar, mentioned in this blog’s previous post. Hummus accompaniments, however, don’t get much tastier than dukkah (pronounced DOO-kah) yet another Middle Eastern specialty.

While not as widely recognizable to most Americans as hummus, this blend of toasted nuts, sesame seeds and spices is finding favor in this country. Often served on olive oil-dipped flatbread, dukkah is particularly popular in Egypt, where nearly every family has developed its own version to suit its personal taste.

The inclusion of hazelnuts — traditionally ground in a mortar and pestle — makes a good case for dukkah’s reinvention as an Oregon commodity, owing to the state’s worldwide dominance of that industry. Columnist Jan Roberts-Dominguez ventured as much in a 2012 piece for A la Carte.

Almonds complement the hazelnuts in Jan’s basic recipe. The just-released cookbook “In a Nutshell” (W.W. Norton) by Cara Tannenbaum and Andrea Tutunjian combines Brazil nuts and hazelnuts with sesame and sunflower seeds and coconut flakes. Cashews or peanuts, specifically a preseasoned product sold at Trader Joe’s, are suggested in the following recipe courtesy of McClatchy News Service. TJ’s also sells small jars of dukkah.

Beyond hummus, dukkah is delicious sprinkled on everything from eggs, pasta and feta cheese to roasted or fresh vegetables, or swirled into yogurt or salad dressings. It’s high in protein and fiber with minimal saturated fat, cholesterol or sugar. Plus, like hummus, it’s a snap to make in a food processor.

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Spicy Dukkah

1 cup Trader Joe’s brand Thai Lime and Chili Almonds, Cashews or Peanuts (may substitute a combination of plain nuts for a milder dukkah)

1/4 cup sesame seeds

2 tablespoons whole coriander seeds

2 tablespoons cumin seed

1 teaspoon salt

Pita bread, olive oil and crudites, for serving

Preheat oven to 375 F.

Spread the nuts in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake in preheated oven for 7 to 10 minutes or until toasted, stirring halfway through. (Toasting intensifies flavor of nuts and seeds, but watch carefully so they don’t burn.)

Spread the sesame seeds in a single layer on a baking sheet and bake for 5 to 7 minutes or until toasted, stirring halfway through. Spread the coriander seeds and cumin seeds on a baking sheet and toast for 5 to 8 minutes.

Allow all ingredients to cool completely.

Place all ingredients in a food processor and pulse about 15 times to chop mixture. Mixture can be coarse or fine as you prefer, but do not overprocess, or mixture will turn to paste. You do not want a paste.

Store mixture in a covered container in refrigerator.

To serve, dip edges of pita bread into olive oil, then into dukkah.

To add crudites, use any vegetables, including cauliflower, carrots, peppers, zucchini, radishes and blanched green beans. Arrange crudites around several small bowls of dukkah and olive oil for dipping.

Makes about 1 1/2 cups.

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Middle East’s ‘peanut butter’ on the rise in U.S.

Hummus is touted in the current Mail Tribune food section as a health-savvy and satisfying snack for kids, as well as adults.

Indeed, Charlotte Observer writer Kathleen Purvis called it “the Middle East’s answer to peanut butter.” But whereas peanut butter is a sticky issue in some schools, hummus has a lower allergen risk and is readily adapted with alternate ingredients. The additions of vegetables and fruits, such as the beets and avocados suggested in this week’s story, even raise the nutritional profile of hummus.

The profile of hummus itself is on the rise. In 2006, the dish ubiquitous in so many countries was found in only 12 percent of American households. That’s now up to 20 percent and growing fast, according to the Observer.

But how to make hummus at home that’s as creamy as a Lebanese deli’s? Save the liquid from the can of chickpeas and add it to the hummus while it’s pureeing in the food processor. The Raleigh News & Observer goes one step further and advises pureeing the hummus longer than you think is necessary, for at least five minutes. Its recipe is posted below.

Of course, the creamiest hummus ever made in my own kitchen was the handiwork of my dear friend, a frequent traveler to the Middle East. She insists on peeling the membrane from each and every chickpea, a laborious process that does remove some of the legume’s fiber but certainly makes for a silky spread.

It’s even better served with the Middle East’s iconic spices: za’atar and sumac. My friend brought me a stash from her last trip. Although I’m keeping them viable in the freezer, I’m looking forward to spices from her next adventure.

Until then, I’ll be using this classic recipe, delicious no matter where in the world it’s eaten.

Hummus

1 (15 1/2-ounce) can chickpeas

4 garlic cloves, peeled

3 tablespoons tahini

2 teaspoons ground cumin

1 teaspoon salt

1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (a little more than 1 lemon)

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for optional garnish

1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper

Greek olives, for garnish (optional)

Toasted pine nuts, for garnish (optional)

Pita chips or pita bread, for serving.

Set colander over a bowl. Drain the chickpeas into colander. Set aside chickpeas and liquid separately.

Puree the garlic in bowl of a food processor, then add drained chickpeas, the tahini, cumin, salt, lemon juice, oil and crushed red pepper and puree again. Let processor run for 3 to 5 minutes, adding 1/4 cup at a time of reserved chickpea liquid until desired consistency is reached. (You may use entire amount of reserved chickpea liquid.)

Serve with the optional garnishes, if desired, and the pita chips or pita bread.

Makes 12 servings.

Recipe from “Aromas of Aleppo: The Legendary Cuisine of Syrian Jews,” by Poopa Dweck (Ecco, 2007).

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‘Crispy Treats’ a cut above rice-cereal originals

School bake sales and parties just wouldn’t be complete without the ubiquitous Rice Krispies Treat.

Kellogg’s beloved cereal bound up with melted marshmallows is certainly high on nostalgia but most definitely low on nutrition. Even an organic version enhanced with some high-quality nut butter doesn’t make the grade for nutritional therapist Summer Waters, although the original was a fixture of her childhood.

Not even as an occasional treat? I asked. Parents can do better, she replied, with every intent of showing them how in an October class. See this week’s A la Carte story for more details.

But while I deferred to Waters’ nutritional ethic and excluded the following recipe from this week’s food section, I couldn’t resist sharing it in this blog. Yes, I could do better. But I’d also choose this “crispy treat” any day over the original, which aren’t altogether too tasty in my opinion.

This one, courtesy of McClatchy News Service, gets higher marks for flavor, fiber and healthful fat from freeze-dried fruit and peanut or any other nut butter. And cutting them into heart shapes makes them both fun to look at and eat. Leftover pieces can be rolled into balls.

MCT photo

Heart Crispy Treats

4 cups organic, crispy brown-rice cereal

1 cup freeze-dried raspberries or strawberries (available at most health-food stores)

1 cup brown rice syrup

1 cup smooth peanut butter (or any nut or seed butter)

In a large bowl, combine the brown-rice cereal and freeze-dried fruit.

In a large saucepan, heat the brown rice syrup and peanut butter over low heat and whisk until melted and combined, for about 2 minutes. Remove saucepan from heat and pour over rice crisps in. Stir with a plastic spatula until completely combined. Pour into a greased, 8-by-8-inch pan and press down to flatten top. Cool for 5 minutes and then use a heart-shaped cookie cutter to cut into hearts.

Makes 14 (2-inch) hearts.

Recipe from Weelicious.com

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Try this sweet treat for back-to-school snacking

If there’s ever a time when meals and snacks should keep kids and parents going all day, it’s the rush back to school.

The best options, nutrition experts can attest, don’t come in the packages. Simply put, they’re whole foods or dishes comprising them. And while fruits and vegetables are high on the list, it’s healthful fats that provide long-burning fuel in the body.

Recipes in this week’s food section, two featuring avocado, are simple snacking or lunchtime options. More can be had next month in a Medford class with nutritional therapist Summer Waters, who provides samples with her large helpings of nutrition information. Read this week’s story for more details.

Waters also ends each session with a “sweet treat,” such as faux fudge based on nut butter. These no-bake fruit bars are right in line with Waters’ nutritional principles and also quick and easy to assemble on a weeknight with minimal mess.

In addition to a loaf pan, a high-powered food processor, like a Cuisinart, is necessary. A blender or mini chopper just won’t cut it here, literally. And closely monitor how the mixture comes together; it may need to be broken up in the middle of processing until pasty.

Cookbook author Lisa Yockelson suggests pressing a generous sprinkle of additional coconut flakes, nuts and/or seeds right on the top of the loaf just before chilling for at least five hours before slicing. Uncut loaf or sliced bars can be refrigerated for up to 2 weeks, individually wrapped for long-term storage.

Photo by Deb Lindsey for The Washington Post

Fruit Bars

1 2/3 cups moist dried apricot halves (about 6 1/3 ounces), snipped into small pieces

1/2 cup moist pitted dates (about 2 3/4 ounces), snipped into small pieces

1/4 cup moist dried apples (about 1 3/5 ounces), snipped into small pieces

2 tablespoons coconut oil, at room temperature (may substitute coconut “butter”)

3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/3 cup unsweetened coconut flakes (about 1 ounce), plus more for optional garnish

1 tablespoon honey or brown rice syrup (optional)

1/2 cup raw cashew pieces, plus more for optional garnish

1/4 cup raw pumpkin seeds, plus more for optional garnish

1/8 teaspoon salt, preferably flaked sea salt

Line bottom and sides of a 4-by-7-inch loaf pan with a double layer of plastic wrap wide enough to allow long sides to eventually overlap and seal fruit-bar loaf.

In a food processor, combine the apricots, dates and apples. Pulse for 30 seconds, or until chopped. Add the coconut oil, vanilla extract, coconut flakes and honey or brown rice syrup, if using; pulse for 45 seconds to 1 minute. Add the cashew pieces, pumpkin seeds and salt; pulse for 45 seconds to 1 minute.

Continue to pulse for about 1 more minute, until mixture is dense, comes together in big, clinging clumps and becomes pasty. If mixture balls up during this time, stop and carefully break it up. (If mixture is not thoroughly processed until pasty, it will not adhere to itself well enough, and will not cut cleanly once thoroughly chilled.) You should be able to see small bits and flecks of nuts and seeds rather than one, solid color.

Carefully remove blade from food processor, and use a sturdy offset knife to dislodge any fruit-bar paste that might cling to blade, then use knife to scrape and transfer globs of fruit mixture to loaf pan. Use a flexible spatula to firmly press mixture into an even layer. If desired, coarsely chop extra coconut flakes, cashews and/or pumpkin seeds (about 4 teaspoons total) and distribute evenly over surface, gently pressing them in place while mixture is still sticky. Fold over flaps of plastic wrap directly on surface. Refrigerate for 5 hours, or up to overnight, until quite firm.

Use a sharp chef’s knife to cut loaf into 16 equal slices (bars), or store the fruit-bar block whole in loaf pan and slice as needed. Keep refrigerated, either way.

Makes 16 servings.

Recipe from The Washington Post

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Silky stew or quick saute is summer’s symphony

Shares from a traditional community-supported agriculture program can seem a bit like the “mystery boxes” intended to stump chefs in so many cooking competitions.

Both entirely unfamiliar produce items and the all-too familiar — filling boxes for weeks on end — offer their own culinary challenges. Even home gardeners who grow exactly what they like, and farmers-market shoppers well-versed in seasonality, can benefit from thinking outside the box, as chef Constance Jesser opined for a recent story in the newspaper’s food section.

Ratatouille is one of the recipes Jesser said she intended to share in an upcoming class. A symphony of late-summer flavors, it’s also a dish that freezes well for months she said. I would hazard that’s the case particularly if the ratatouille is simmered over more than an hour in the classic Provencal style, shared in a previous post.

The following recipe is closer to my take on “quick ratatouille,” which my husband prefers to the silky stew that his mom makes every summer. Our tastes may differ on this point, but we couldn’t be more in sympathy about cultivating this cast of veggies every year.

Garden Fresh Ratatouille

1/4 cup olive oil, divided

1 large eggplant, trimmed, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice

1 small onion, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice

1 red pepper, cored and cut into 1/2-inch dice

1 green pepper, cored and cut into 1/2-inch dice

2 green zucchini, trimmed and cut into 1/2-inch dice

2 yellow squash, trimmed and cut into 1/2-inch dice

4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced

6 Roma or plum tomatoes, cored and cut into 1/2-inch dice

1/3 cup fresh basil, cut into thin strips

1 1/2 tablespoons fresh thyme leaves

A pinch of dried, crushed, red chili flakes (optional)

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Add 2 tablespoons of the oil to a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the eggplant and spread into a single layer. Cook until it just starts to soften and turn golden-brown, stirring occasionally, for about 6 to 8 minutes. Remove eggplant from pan and reserve.

Heat 2 tablespoons oil to same skillet. Add the onion and peppers and cook for 6 to 8 minutes, stirring occasionally, until just softened and slightly golden. Add the zucchini and squash and reduce heat to medium. Cook for about 10 to 12 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the garlic and cook for about 30 seconds, until fragrant. Add the tomatoes, basil, thyme and chili flakes, if using, and cook for about 7 to 9 minutes, stirring occasionally, until tomatoes start to break down.

Add reserved browned eggplant to skillet and cook for about 6 to 8 minutes, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are soft and mixture looks like a wet, but not saucy stew. Season with the vinegar, salt and pepper. Serve hot, cold or at room temperature.

Makes 8 to 10 side-dish servings, 4 to 6 main-course servings.

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Onion pickles can wait for home-canning lull

Canning often is akin to preparing a time capsule: capturing a fleeting moment of peak ripeness and flavor.

For centuries, food preservation has extended the bounteous harvest into the lean months when fresh produce is sparse and therefore precious. So it’s no wonder that summer’s tomatoes, cucumbers, green beans and copious fruits are arguably the most commonly put up.

But there are opportunities for preserving foods after the high-season heyday has passed, particularly when the food is a commodity practically year-round. That’s how this recipe for sweet-and-sour onion pickled caught my eye.

Published in The Washington Post to kick-start springtime interest in canning, this recipe uses “spring” onions, which really are available almost any time to home gardeners. Onions are a short-season crop that we continually keep going by reseeding. They take a bit longer to bulb out in chilly winter soil but usually weather the cold just fine. The tender green shoots that emerged just a few weeks ago should be plump and piquant once we’ve had a breather from all the jams, jellies, pickles and chutneys.

Traditionally, pickled onions are essential to British pub fare, such as the ploughman’s lunch, and French country pates. They can add a je ne sais quoi to simple grilled fish or chicken and become addictive additions to sandwiches and eggs (deviled, in particular), even pimento cheese spread.

Substitute 24 ramps or wild garlic, or combine all three, pickling only the bulbs. But steer clear of meager grocery-store scallions for this application, said cookbook author and food blogger Cathy Barrow, who developed the recipe.

Sweet-and-Sour Onion Pickle

2 tablespoons kosher salt

8 to 12 plump spring onions (about 12 ounces total), extremely fresh and very clean

3 cups apple cider vinegar

2 cups sugar

1 tablespoon pickling spice

Fill a stainless-steel or glass bowl with 1 quart cool, non-chlorinated water. Stir in the salt. Closely trim away roots from ends of the onions, then cut off greens. Add onions to salt water; top with a plate to keep them submerged. Drape the bowl with a tea towel and let it rest for 12 to 24 hours.

Drain onions, rinse well under cool running water, then drain again.

In a nonreactive (stainless-steel) 3-quart saucepan, combine the vinegar, sugar and pickling spice; bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring until sugar has dissolved and formed a light syrup. Add onions; once syrup returns to a boil, cook for 10 minutes. Remove from heat, cover and let mixture rest in saucepan for 12 to 24 hours.

Prepare for water-bath canning. Bring onions in syrup to a rolling boil over high heat. Use a slotted spoon to lift onions out of syrup and pack them into sanitized jars, filling each jar no more than two-thirds full. Boil syrup for 5 minutes, until slightly thickened.

Add thickened syrup to jars, leaving 1/2 inch head space. (You might have syrup remaining; it makes a sinful addition to a gin cocktail and a surprising sip over ice with sparkling water.)

Run a chopstick or flat plastic knife along inside of jars to dislodge any air bubbles. Clean rim of each jar with distilled white vinegar to cut residual oils, place warmed lids on and finger-tighten rings (not too tightly). Process in boiling-water bath for 15 minutes, bringing water to a low boil before starting timer for processing. Turn off heat and let jars rest in pot for 10 minutes. Use a jar lifter to transfer jars to a clean, folded dish towel to cool for several hours.

Label and date sealed jars. Store in a cool, dark place for up to 1 year. Let onions cure for at least 2 weeks before serving, during which time any of their sharp flavor that remains will mellow.

Makes 12 servings (makes 2 half-pint jars).

Recipe from Cathy Barrow, author of “Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s Practical Pantry: Recipes and Techniques for Year-Round Preserving” (Norton, November 2014).

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Home-canned artichoke hearts a ‘revelation’

For years, I was the one doling out food tips to fellow Mail Tribune staffers, including the design guru behind so many editions of the newspaper’s food section.

This week, I was on the receiving end, as my friend and food-section counterpart filled me in on how to grill artichokes. Clearly, some variations on this prickly but oh-so-delicious vegetable are in order. Although “artichoke” was one of this blog’s most searched terms this summer, most of the references are to commercially prepared artichoke hearts.

So I’m going to do one better for artichoke aficionados. Way better. And it’s still in time for many of us who have artichokes coming on in the garden. The need for tightly formed buds, firm and weighty, makes this recipe for homemade, canned artichoke hearts an ideal treatment for those tiny artichokes that so often sprout up around a central, much larger blossom.

Be forewarned: This recipe is an involved process with a very small yield, just three jars to treasure. But cookbook author and food blogger Cathy Barrow swears the results are worth it. “So spectacularly different from the vaguely metallic, overly acidified versions on the grocery store shelf, it is a revelation,” she writes for The Washington Post.

Once cured for a month or more, these artichoke hearts are velvety, tart and full of flavor. Layer them on pizza, flatbread or sandwiches; strew them into salads and frittatas; combine them with cured black olives, roasted red peppers and goat cheese for a charcuterie platter, coarsely chop them for bruschetta topping or enjoy them on their own as a side dish.

To trim the artichokes, break the leaves away from the heart until the tender, yellow-bottomed center leaves are revealed. On a baby artichoke, that will be only a few of the outer leaves, but larger artichokes have many more fully formed leaves. If all of the leaves have thorns, remove them all and scrape away the furry inner choke.

Work quickly. The hearts will darken when exposed to air. A lemony water bath will preserve their light color. Beware: The tannins in raw artichoke will stain your hands. Lemon juice will remove the stain.

If you choose to skip the water-bath canning called for here, refrigerate sealed jars of artichokes for one month before serving. (Artichokes that are not water-bath-canned will not achieve the same silky texture as those that are.)

Photo for The Washington Post by Deb Lindsey

Home-Canned Artichoke Hearts

4 lemons

9 medium or 15 baby artichokes

1/4 cup plus 3 teaspoons kosher salt or sea salt

1 cup distilled white vinegar, plus more as needed

1/4 cup white-wine vinegar

1/4 cup mild olive oil, or more as needed

1 tablespoon dried oregano

3/4 teaspoon crushed red-pepper flakes

3 garlic cloves, peeled and root ends trimmed

3 (1-inch) strips lemon zest

Halve and juice the lemons. Place spent lemon halves in a 5-quart, nonreactive (not aluminum or copper) pot; fill it with cold water. Strain juice and reserve it for marinade.

To trim the artichokes, pull leaves from each one, snapping them where they naturally break. Use a sharp knife or vegetable peeler to peel choke, then make a clean cut across end of stem, retaining tender portion. Use a grapefruit spoon, melon baller or side of a teaspoon to scrape away fuzzy choke, revealing meaty part of it, then quarter entire choke. (For baby artichokes, trim only to any inner leaves without a thorn.) As each choke is trimmed, drop it into pot.

Add the 1/4 cup salt. Bring pot filled with lemon water and artichokes to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat to medium or medium-low so water is barely bubbling. Cook, uncovered, until artichokes are fork-tender, for about 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, make marinade: In a small saucepan over high heat, combine reserved lemon juice, the vinegars, oil, oregano, crushed red-pepper flakes and garlic cloves. Bring to a boil; cook for 5 minutes, then remove from heat.

Use a slotted spoon to transfer artichokes to sanitized jars, dividing them evenly and stacking small ones and first cutting medium ones into quarters. Tuck them in as tightly as possible without breaking or bruising them.

Whisk marinade well and divide among jars. If there is not enough marinade to cover, add oil as needed to leave 1/2 inch head space at top of each jar. Make sure 1 garlic clove, 1 strip of lemon zest and 1 teaspoon salt go into each jar.

Run a chopstick or flat plastic knife along inside of jar to dislodge any air bubbles. Clean rim of each jar with distilled white vinegar to cut residual oils, place warmed lids on and finger-tighten rings (not too tight). Process in boiling-water bath for 15 minutes, ensuring water is at a low boil before starting timer for processing. Turn off heat and let jars rest in pot for 10 minutes. Use tongs to transfer jars to a clean, folded dish towel to cool over several hours.

Store water bath-canned jars in a cool space to cure for 1 month. Once opened, jars should be refrigerated and used within a month.

Makes 9 to 15 servings (makes 3 pints).

Recipe from Cathy Barrow, author of “Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s Practical Pantry: Recipes and Techniques for Year-Round Preserving” (Norton, November 2014).

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Spur quicker consumption with quick pickling

The last post to this blog betrays my tendency to purchase more food than we can consume in a reasonable period of time.

It’s not so bad when the item is shelf-stable, at least for a couple of years. But many of us overestimate how often preserved food will keep. In many instances, it isn’t safety that’s called into question but rather quality. Echoing the sentiment of a local Master Food Preserver, why would I eat my 3-year-old canned peaches after we just put up more?

Quick-pickled lemon cucmbers and radishes (Sarah Lemon photo)

In one small arena, at least, my consumption is keeping pace with preservation. Last year’s quick-pickled peppers, explained in a previous post, are nearly gone. A lone habanero chili is biding its time in a jar of vinegar until the next batch of nachos. Waiting in the wings are some Italian sweet peppers that I pickled a few days ago. The only reason they weren’t roasted and frozen is because I have yet to use last year’s frozen stash. Sigh!

Also consigned to the quick-pickle fate this week were lemon cucumbers and radishes. Refrigerator storage aside, the free-form nature of quick pickling is suited to almost any combination of vegetables, as a recent article in the Miami Herald pointed out.

The following recipe from writer Linda Cicero specifies cucumber, bell pepper, radish and carrots. But she also recommends jicama, golden beets, turnips, carrots and celery, even zucchini and other types of squash. See a previous post to this blog for my favorite pickled zucchini recipe. Cicero cites McCormick.com.

Then add your pickled veggies to charcuterie plates and relish trays, burgers and bratwursts. Chop them up to mix into chicken, tuna or egg salad. Vietnamese banh mi sandwiches, in particular, are traditional repositories of pickled veggies.

While Cicero gives these a refrigerator shelf life of two weeks when stored in a nonreactive container, I find that quick-pickled veggies actually keep much longer and can even improve in flavor. You be the judge of their quality.

Asian-Style Pickled Vegetables

1 large seedless or English cucumber, thinly sliced (about 2 cups)

1 medium red bell pepper, cut into thin strips (about 2 cups)

1 cup thinly sliced radishes or daikon (Asian white radish)

1/2 cup julienne-cut carrots

2 tablespoons mixed pickling spice

2 cups sugar

2 cups rice vinegar

2 tablespoons kosher salt

In a large, glass bowl, mix the vegetables. Set aside. Place the pickling spice in center of a piece of cheesecloth or a coffee filter. Tie tightly with string. Place in a medium saucepan with the sugar, vinegar and salt. Bring to boil on medium-high heat, stirring to dissolve sugar and salt. Reduce heat to low; simmer for 5 minutes.

Pour hot liquid and pickling spice bundle over vegetables. Cover. Refrigerate vegetables. Stir once a day for 1 to 2 days to blend flavors before serving. Makes 20 servings.

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    Sarah Lemon

    Sarah Lemon covers the Rogue Valley’s food scene with an enthusiasm that rivals her love of cooking. Her blog mixes culinary musings and milestones with tips and recipes you won’t find in the Mail Tribune’s weekly A la Carte section. When ... Read Full
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