Letter from The Publisher
We’re moving into the height of summer produce season here in the Midwest, and I can hardly wait! Soon, our gardens, farmers’ markets and other local stores will be abundant with mouth-watering varieties of veggies, heirloom tomatoes, herbs and fresh fruits. And yet, with lots of cookbooks on the shelf, saved recipes and Google, I still tend to ask, “So, what’s for dinner?”
Here’s a pretty simple answer that serves up variety and leaves leftovers for a cold lunch or second meal. It’s a tasty way to use up odds and ends of vegetables and will likely pass the kid test; it’s my go-to no-recipe summer veggie bowl. I tend to use hearty pasta shapes that hold sauce well, like rotini and rigatoni, but rice or quinoa will work just as well. (I’m serious when I say there’s no actual recipe, so the techniques and measurements are up to you.)
Start with greens. Try thinly sliced (julienned) or torn leaf spinach, or consider adding other varieties you may have. Sliced chard, kale, young collards and arugula are all wonderful choices, as are fresh greens from beets, kohlrabi, radish and turnips.
Next, select the vegetables. Adding seasonal veggies to “bowl” dishes is a great way to sample new flavors or use up small quantities that aren’t enough for a side dish. The key is to slice everything uniformly so that they cook quickly and evenly. Use zucchini and other summer squashes, asparagus, mushrooms, peppers, fennel, carrots and pretty much whatever is in season and available. And, of course, tomatoes. Early in the season, I start with canned and then move to fresh as the crops come in. I prefer to use garlic and mild shallots, but scapes, onions and chives will also work.
Make your sauce. We all have our methods, and here’s what I typically do. Cook the pasta, rice or quinoa. Prep the vegetables before you start and have them ready. Add olive oil to a large, heavy pot and lightly sauté the chopped garlic and shallots until fragrant, then add round one of the chopped veggies, reserving faster-cooking items like mushrooms until denser vegetables start to soften.
Season as you go with salt and pepper and any dried herbs, then add the tomatoes. Toss in the greens last, as they’ll only need a couple of minutes of heat to stay bright and retain their texture. Cook until the veggies are soft, but still retain some crunch. Add a little pasta water or veg broth if desired and remove from heat. Stir in the drained pasta or spoon the sauce on top.
There are so many ways to finish the dish, depending on individual taste, time and ingredients at hand. Sprinkle with fresh herbs or dried pepper flakes, or get fancy with capers, marinated artichokes or sliced olives. Or, layer the cooked sauce and pasta on a bed of baby spinach or arugula, which will wilt quickly under the hot ingredients. Maybe drizzle on a good-quality plain or flavored olive oil. Don’t forget the grated cheese. And enjoy!
We’d love to hear about your favorite summer recipes! Email us at Editor@NAChicago.com or post to Facebook @Natural Awakenings Chicago Magazine or tag us on Instagram @NAChicago. And please, try to make the most of every moment of this Chicago summer.
Have a safe Fourth of July and enjoy the summer!