Gemelli with Corn, Tomatoes & Canadian Bacon

Leila and Chris were due for dinner last night. Tuesday looked very different when I extended the invitation the week before, but I am learning that the consulting life comes with an ever-evolving calendar. I texted from a client meeting at 4:30 to suggest that they come around 7:30 and rushed back to my neighborhood to pick up this week’s CSA bounty. I made it home around 6:30, but still didn’t have a clue what I was going to make.

Luckily, I had some Flying Pigs Farm Canadian bacon in the freezer to complement Farmer Ted‘s peak summer vegetables. By the time I had stashed the last of the onions and washed and dried the gorgeous purple lettuce, I’d hatched a plan. This is a meal that comes together fast, so you’ll want to have everything prepped and ready to go before you start sautéing.

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Gemelli with Corn, Tomatoes & Canadian Bacon

  • 1 pound good quality gemelli or other short pasta shape
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 garlic scape, cut into long segments and sliced down the center (or 3 cloves regular garlic)
  • 4 ounces Canadian bacon, cut into 1″ strips
  • 2 ears sweet corn, niblets stripped
  • 2 handfuls roughly chopped kale
  • 4 plum tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 handful fresh basil leaves, chopped
  • salt and pepper

Place a large pot of salted water over high heat. When the water in your pot is boiling, add the pasta and give it a quick stir. Cook 8 minutes or until just before al dente. (If you game this right, you should be able to transfer the pasta straight from the pot to the pan. If not, no worries. Just be sure to save some of the cooking liquid when you drain the pasta.) Meanwhile, heat a large skillet up to medium with the olive oil. Add the garlic and cook, stirring continuously for a few minutes until you pick up the smell of toasted garlic. Remove and discard the garlic. Add the Canadian bacon and cook until most of the fat is released but before it gets crispy. Add the corn and cook for a couple more minutes. Add the kale and cook until wilted. Add the tomatoes and cook another couple of minutes. Then add the pasta plus about half a cup of the cooking water. Crank the heat up to high and cook for two more minutes, stirring constantly. Season with salt and pepper. Stir in the basil off the heat.

I failed to get a shot of last night’s meal, which included a salad with the aforementioned purple lettuce, yellow tomatoes and crumbled ricotta salata in a classic red wine vinaigrette plus hunks of crusty baguette. But I just polished off this bowl of leftover pasta for lunch and am surprised to report that it was even tastier served cold the next day. (I suspect this has to do with the pig fat having some time to permeate the pasta.)

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Corn, Bacon & Beet Greens

Tuesday is CSA pickup day. Farmer Fred excels at growing greens, so a big salad has become part of my weekly ritual. But, as the thermometer climbs, the delicate lettuces are giving way to more heat tolerant crops. This week brought iceberg, which should keep just fine in the salad spinner. Tonight’s haul also included the first of the sweet corn. Now this demanded to be eaten right away.

Corn, Bacon & Beet Greens

  • 3 slices bacon
  • 1 spring onion, bulb and greens (or one regular onion and a couple of scallions)
  • 3 ears fresh corn
  • 1 jalapeño (or to taste)
  • 1 bunch beet greens (or other delicate greens such as chard or spinach)
  • 1/2 bunch cilantro
  • salt and pepper

Roughly chop the bacon, add to a cast iron skillet, and bring up to medium heat. Cook, stirring occasionally until bacon is mostly crisp and rendered. Set bacon aside on a paper towel. Chop and add the onion (but not the greens) and stir regularly until limp and somewhat translucent. Mince the jalapeño. Slice the corn niblets off and freeze the cobs for future chowder. Scoop the onions to the side, crank the heat up to high, and add the corn and jalapeños. Let sit for a few minutes until the corn starts to take on color. Stir and repeat a few times, mixing in the cooked onions as you go. Roughly chop the beet greens and thinly slice the onion greens. Add these and stir until just wilted. Season with salt and pepper. Add cilantro and crumbled bacon off the heat.

At this point, you could just grab a fork and dig in. You could also serve it as a side with some fried chicken or even use it to top a salad. I opted to stuff some into a couple of corn tortillas and drizzle with some Tapatio hot sauce and a generous squeeze of lime.

Corn Bacon Beet Greens

Fourth of July weekend I stumbled on a small, nicely-seasoned cast iron skillet in a junk shop up in the Catskills. The remaining corn, bacon and beet greens will make for a most excellent breakfast when topped with a perfectly fried egg.

Perfect Egg Pan

Wajeedah’s Black Bean & Corn Salsa Verde

Friday morning found me trekking to South Jamaica, Queens to meet Wajeedah Anderson-Beyah at McKinley Children’s Garden. The garden is named for Wajeedah’s late husband, an urban farmer and community activist who grew up in nearby public housing and attended P.S. 40 just across the street. McKinley envisioned a space where neighborhood kids could learn about gardening and connect to nature.

I am here to attest that McKinley Children’s Garden is also an oasis for overworked grownups. An hour of chatting about the garden’s educational programs, munching cherry tomatoes fresh from the vine, and learning about different techniques for container gardening did wonders for my frazzled mental state. I would have loved to have spent the day.

South Jamaica Sunflowers

Alas, I was due back on the 15th floor of a Midtown high-rise. Before my departure, Wajeedah tasked me with picking black beans while she gathered sunflowers and lemon balm for me to take home. While I am a serious lover of all manners of beans, it turns out that I didn’t have a clue about how they are grown. These particular beans grow in long thin pods that fade from a lovely eggplant color to white as they dry. Once dry, the pods are easily plucked from the vine.

Black Beans in Pod

And, as I learned later that night, the small, inky beans are easy to pop out of their shell–even after several glasses of wine followed by a long and sleepy subway ride.

Friday at last.

 Wajeedah’s Black Bean & Corn Salsa Verde

Turn the oven up as high as it will go and get to work on the beans.

  • 1/4 cup dried black beans
  • 1 tablespoon bacon grease (optional)
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1″ piece of jalapeno or other hot pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 large pinch salt

Add ingredients above plus 3/4 cup water to a small pot, bring to a boil and then reduce heat. Let simmer for one hour or until beans are tender but still toothsome, adding small amounts of water as needed.

  • 6 tomatillos, halved
  • 1 large onion, trimmed and halved
  • 5 mild peppers (bell, Poblano, etc.), seeded and halved
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and halved
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil

Drizzle one tablespoon olive oil into a roasting pan, arrange the vegetables cut side down in a single layer, drizzle with the remaining oil, and pop into your pre-heated oven. Cook undisturbed until you have some nice charred bits, by which time your tomatillos will likely have collapsed into a mush. Finely mince the jalapeno, roughly chop everything else, and add the vegetables plus any remaining juice to a mixing bowl.

  • 2 cobs of corn, niblets sliced off and cobs reserved for stock
  • 1/2 bunch cilantro, finely minced
  • juice of 1 lime
  • salt and pepper

Stir in the remaining ingredients, including a generous amount of pepper and salt to taste. Let sit in the refrigerator for at least an hour. (Overnight is fine.)

Black Bean and Corn Salsa Verde

Serve this as you would any salsa–as a dip with tortilla chips, as a condiment with grilled fish or meat, etc. I ate some with scrambled eggs nestled inside corn tortillas.

Breakfast Tacos

Zucchini, Corn & Tomatoes with Pan-Grilled Shrimp

I am not particularly fond of hotels. I know that I am an oddball in this regard, but the anonymity, sameness and unabashed luxury that everyone seems to find so soothing make me nervous and a bit antsy. I would rather stay someplace with charm and quirkiness that feels lived in. And I would definitely prefer to have a kitchen.

I am in the middle of a five-day trip upstate to re-center between jobs. I chose Hudson because it is nestled within the natural beauty of the Hudson Valley while offering yoga, artisanal coffee and drinking establishments within an easy walk–a DIY spa experience for the burnt out urbanite. I’ve eaten a few meals out, but have mainly chosen to treat my day trips as scavenger hunts, returning each evening to pull something together from whatever I managed to find. It helps that the kitchen in my rental is dreamy.

Perfect Kitchen

The key to cooking while traveling is to keep it simple and bring a handful of essentials with you. For this trip, I brought small containers of regular and high-end olive oil, red wine vinegar, sugar, red pepper flakes, salt, coffee, garlic and an all-purpose spice blend. I also brought two essentials that every rental seems to lack: a good knife and a proper pepper mill. The bourbon and tequila, while not essential, do add a certain something to the experience.

Vacation House Kitchen Essentials

Yesterday I attended an afternoon yoga class and then took a hike to Bash Bish Falls (which lived up to their name when I succeeded in falling and bashing the hell out of my leg). When I got back to Hudson, I rewarded myself with a Negroni followed by what I think may have been the better part of a bottle of Vinho Verde at the wine bar down the hill from my temporary digs. It was a great opportunity to get a sense of the local scene and meet some lovely people–oddballs themselves, I was relieved to discover. Sometime well after sundown, my homing instinct kicked in, so I settled the check and stumbled up the hill. Luckily, I had half a pound of very large shell-on shrimp defrosting in the fridge and some fine Hudson Valley produce.

Zucchini, Corn & Tomatoes with Pan-Grilled Shrimp

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large clove garlic, minced
  • 1 large pinch red pepper flakes
  • 1 medium red onion, diced
  • 1 medium zucchini, cut into 3/4″ pieces
  • 2 ears sweet corn, cut from cob
  • 8-12 large black cherry or other small heirloom tomatoes
  • 1/2 pound peeled shrimp
  • 1/4 cup of whatever (white or rose) wine you are drinking
  • salt and pepper
  1. Put on some Al Green and pour yourself a glass of wine.
  2. Toss shrimp with 1 tablespoon olive oil, garlic, red pepper flakes, salt and pepper. Set aside.
  3. Add 1 tablespoon olive oil to a skillet over medium heat. When oil comes to temperature, add onion and sauté, stirring frequently. When onions begin to brown, add zucchini. Stir occasionally until zucchini is soft and browned in places. Add corn along with salt and pepper and cook, stirring frequently, for 2-3 minutes. 
  4. Remove from heat and stir in basil and tomatoes. Empty mixture onto plate.
  5. Return pan to heat and add shrimp along with any accumulate marinade. Cook for approximately two minutes, flip and cook for an additional two minutes. Pile shrimp on top of vegetables. Return pan to heat and add 1/4 cup of whatever you are drinking, scraping to remove any residue. Cook for one minute and then pour over shrimp.

Zucchini Corn Tomatoes Shrimp

This dish is a delicious celebration of summer–and so easy that even a rather tipsy vacationer can bang it out in about 20 minutes.

Non-Suffering Succotash

Tuesday’s CSA share brought plums, corn, romaine, basil, peppers, onions, eggplant, cabbage and more glorious tomatoes. The rest of the week brought a flurry of social engagements and two distinct mountains of work.

It seems the cat is finally out of the bag; after two decades working in sexual health and reproductive justice, I am making the move to food. While I won’t officially start until after Labor Day, I am already hard at work behind the scenes preparing and training for my new role as the Executive Director of Just Food. Just Food works with community leaders to ensure that all New Yorkers have access to fresh, locally grown food. To say this is my dream job is a bit of an understatement. To say that I am busy is more than a bit of an understatement.

Somehow I managed to knock off the lettuce, plums and most of the tomatoes by Sunday morning. But that left me with a whole lot of vegetables to consume. Add to that the fact that I felt compelled to buy okra, scallions and hot peppers while introducing a friend who is new to the neighborhood to the Grand Army Plaza Greenmarket and the situation gets comical.

I spent my Sunday strolling Brooklyn for a series of food-fueled meetings. I had it in my head that I might indulge in a little impulse shopping along the way. While I tried on a few pairs of shoes and a vintage dress, nothing really struck my fancy–until I stumbled on Park Slope’s Sunday Down to Earth Farmers Market. It had been a couple of years since I had hit this market, which seems to now focus less on fruits and vegetables and more on all manners of dried, fermented, preserved, juiced, pickled and canned products. Tucked among the stalls was Barry’s Tempeh. I love me some tofu and I love me some seitan. Tempeh, however, has always struck me as a bit dry and dense. But one sample of Barry’s brown rice, quinoa and barley version and I was a convert. I departed with a pound of frozen tempeh stuffed into my purse.

Barry's Tempeh

My next meeting was scheduled to take place in a bar with a backyard, but it seems we weren’t the only ones who thought outdoor drinking on a mild August afternoon was a good idea. So we retreated to Four & Twenty Blackbirds for an afternoon “snack” of giant slabs of peach and raspberry crumble pie. By the time I got home, I was pretty sure I was done eating for the day. But by 9:00 I had miraculously regained my appetite. Fortunately, the tempeh has defrosted nicely nestled between my sunglasses and some books I picked up on the street.

Tempeh, Corn & Okra Succotash

  • 1/4 cup or so of olive oil, divided
  • 1/2 pound tempeh (ideally fresh or fresh frozen), cubed
  • 1 yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 green pepper, chopped
  • 1 jalapeno pepper, seeded and minced
  • 3 cobs of corn, stripped (Freeze the cobs until you have enough to make a killer chowder.)
  • 3/4 pound okra, trimmed and sliced into 3/4″ pieces
  • 2 medium red tomatoes, chopped
  • 1/4 cup loosely packed basil, chiffonaded
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • salt and pepper
  1. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large cast iron skillet over medium heat. Add the tempeh and cook until nicely browned on one side. Flip the pieces, adding a little more oil each time until they are nicely browned. (The more oil you add, the tastier and crispier your tempeh will be, so use your own judgment.) Sprinkle liberally with salt and set aside.
  2. Add 2 more tablespoons of olive oil followed by the onions, green pepper and jalapeno pepper. Cook stirring occasionally until the onions are limp and starting to brown. Add the corn and cook for another couple of minutes. Season with salt and pepper and empty into a bowl.
  3. Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil and the okra. Cook stirring occasionally until the pods have softened and are dark along the ridges. Add the tomatoes and cook for 2 more minutes. Season with salt and pepper and then dump in the tempeh and the corn mixture. Cook for a minute more. Off of the heat, add in the basil and vinegar. Taste and add additional salt, pepper or vinegar as you see fit.

Tempeh Corn and Okra Succotash

I made up for my afternoon drinking fail by pairing this succotash with a Sixpoint Sweet Action. For a brief moment, I forgot that tomorrow will be another 12-hour workday. Luckily, I have three additional servings of succotash to get me through the week.

Corn & Seafood Chowder

Barbara and I met through our mutual support of the New York Abortion Access Fund (NYAAF). This past spring she invited me to be a guest on the Park Slope Food Coop cooking show that she hosts. We had a great time making shrimp and grits and discussing the critical role that abortion funds play. A couple of weeks ago we decided to reprise our cooking date–only this time (mercifully) the cameras were off.

Barbara emailed me a few days before our date asking what we should make. I mentally reviewed the various foodstuffs cluttering my fridge: corn, potatoes, and a wide variety of peppers. This could have gone any number of ways. Then I remembered that I had several corn cobs stripped of their kernels jammed into my freezer because I had read something about corn broth. Bingo!

Corn & Seafood Chowder

  • 8-12 cobs of corn
  • 3 ounces slab bacon, diced
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 3 stalks celery, finely diced
  • 1 green pepper, diced
  • 1 cubanelle pepper, diced
  • 1 jalapeño pepper, minced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 8 medium russet potatoes, cut into half-inch cubes
  • 1 pint lobster stock or 1 jar clam juice
  • 18-24 cherrystone or littleneck clams
  • 2 large filets of flounder (about 1 pound total)
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 bunch curly parsley, chopped
  • salt and pepper
  1.  Husk the corn and then strip off the kernels using a sharp knife. (I find that doing this over a shallow bowl keeps the kernels from rolling away and also allows me to capture any of the milky liquid that they exude.) Reserve about four cobs’ worth of kernels for your chowder and freeze the rest for succotash, cornbread or the like. Throw the denuded cobs into a large pot with enough water to cover, bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for half an hour–or as long as it takes you to get through the next couple of steps.Corn Broth
  2. Dice your bacon, onions, celery, and green peppers. Mince the garlic and jalapeño. Chop the potatoes. Chat about anything and everything. Have a nosh if you like.Barbara Chopping
  3. Add the bacon to a large pan and bring up to medium-low heat. Once the fat has mostly rendered and the bacon pieces are just starting to firm up, add the onions. Saute until they are starting to soften and then add your celery and various peppers. Once these have started to soften, add the garlic and cook for a few minutes. The key is to soften everything up without allowing it to brown. Season with salt and pepper.Chowder Base
  4. Pull the corn cobs out of your soup pot using tongs and then dump your vegetable mixture into the pot along with the diced potatoes. Add the lobster stock or clam juice, bring to a boil, and then lower to a simmer. Put the clams in a bowl, cover with cold water, and add some black pepper or cornmeal. (This step, while not strictly necessary, will encourage the clams to spit out their sand, avoiding a certain amount of grit in the finished product.) Leave the pot to simmer for a half hour or more while you retire to the living room for some more chatting.
  5. Now is a good time to wake Barbara’s husband Chris up from his nap so that he can ready himself for chowder.
  6. Add the butter. Taste the broth and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper. Add your clams and then lay the flounder in gently. Cook until the clams pop open (roughly 15 minutes), by which time your flounder should be white and opaque. Finish with the corn kernels and some fresh parsley.Corn and Seafood Chowder

We ate our chowder in Barbara’s rather perfect Fiestaware bowls, using hunks of bread to soak up the delicious broth. It made for a truly excellent early autumn lunch.

Corn and Seafood Chowder 2