One week, we're enjoying salads cut from backyard romaine and arugula plants, and it seems like the very next week, we're putting up the plants that have gone to seed and saying yes when our neighbor asks us if we want more tomatoes.
As we change gears from lighter spring salads, here are some substantial summer side dishes that you can serve hot or cold, as a quick lunch or at a potluck or dinner party.
These recipes provide creative ways to use up tomatoes, shallots, green beans, lentils and orzo, and though it might seem like these are three separate recipes — tomato-ginger green beans, bacon and spinach orzo salad, and tomatoes stuffed with lentils and goat cheese — the components that make up each one of them are interchangeable. You could make the tomato-ginger sauce to toss in the orzo salad or spoon over the roasted tomatoes, or you could use bell peppers instead of tomatoes as the baking vessel. You also could use lentils instead of orzo in the salad or saute green beans and cherry tomatoes instead of spinach.
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So many different combinations, and using your creativity to use up what you have can keep you from losing interest in summer flavors before the end of June.
Also of note: Cookbook author Virginia Willis will be in Austin for a tomato-themed class at Central Market North on Wednesday. Tickets are available online at centralmarket.com until 1 p.m. on the day of the class.
Tomato-Ginger Green Beans
Green beans are also known as string beans or snap beans and are traditionally simmered for a long time with a hunk of some kind of pork — bacon, fatback, or hog jowl. My grandfather could eat a mountain of green beans and planted his garden accordingly. My grandmother would cook them in her pressure cooker, which would transform them from a bright green, crisp vegetable into soft-as-silk, army-green vegetable noodles. I remember the safety valve emitting little bursts of steam and the meaty, vegetal aroma that filled the air. There’s always going to be a place in my heart and at my table for those old-fashioned Southern recipes, even as I appreciate the influences on Southern food and cooking from different cuisines and cultures.
Tomatoes are actually a fruit, not a vegetable, and marry particularly well with spicy ginger in this dish. While most ginger is imported, the sandy soil and hot climate of the Southeast is conducive to growing ginger, and a number of farmers are adding both it and turmeric to their crop rotation. And no, it’s not a typo. I’m suggesting 1/4 cup chopped ginger in this Southeast Asian–inspired side dish.
— Virginia Willis
1 pound string beans (French-style haricots verts work especially well), stem ends trimmed
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 shallot, finely chopped
1/4 cup very finely chopped fresh ginger
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 tomatoes, cored, seeded and chopped
1/2 jalapeño, or to taste, seeded and chopped
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
Coarse kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil over high heat. Fill a large bowl with ice and water and set it nearby. Line a plate with paper towels.
Add the beans to the boiling water and cook until crisp-tender, about 3 minutes. Drain well in a colander and then set the colander with the beans in the ice-water bath to set the color and stop the cooking, making sure the beans are submerged. Once chilled, transfer the beans to the prepared plate. Pat dry with paper towels and then transfer to a bowl.
Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the shallot and cook until tender, about 3 minutes. Add the ginger and garlic and cook until fragrant, 45 to 60 seconds. Add the tomatoes and jalapeño and cook until warmed through, 5 minutes.
Add the cooked green beans and toss to coat and combine. Cook, tossing and stirring, until the green beans are heated through, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the cilantro; taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper. This dish is delicious served hot, warm, room temperature, or cold. If served cold, make sure to taste and adjust for seasoning with salt and pepper, as chilling a dish dulls the seasoning. Serves 4 to 6.
— From "Secrets of the Southern Table: A Food Lover's Tour of the Global South" by Virginia Willis (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $30)
Bacon and Spinach Orzo Salad
It looks like we have Pennsylvania Dutch tradition to thank for warm bacon dressing, and that makes kitchen sense to me. Finding a use for the just-rendered fat from a pan of freshly crisped rashers — in this case, the oil substitute in a shallot vinaigrette — is both thrifty and practical.
The dressing probably also helped to wilt savoy spinach pulled straight from the garden, with the kind of sturdy, crinkly leaves that are increasingly hard to come by at the supermarket. This recipe pairs that dressing and crisped bacon with orzo, a popular choice for the pasta salads of summer. We're using the more ubiquitous baby spinach leaves here, which don't put up the same fight as their savoy kin but get slip-slide-y along with the orzo. Roasted red pepper completes the cheerful palette.
Shaved Parm is an optional, salty hit; you could just as easily toss in the small balls of mozzarella called bocconcini, which would add a different texture and tone down the salt and acidity in each bite. Speaking of that acidity, taste the salad before you serve it. If you're like me, you'll add one more splash of vinegar to balance the bacon-y richness. Allow leftovers to come to room temperature before serving.
— Bonnie S. Benwick
6 strips bacon (uncooked)
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for the cooking water
1 large shallot
1/2 cup white wine vinegar or Champagne vinegar, or more as needed
1 tablespoon plus 1 1/2 teaspoons honey
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more as needed
12 ounces dried orzo pasta (may substitute another small shaped pasta)
8 ounces baby spinach (about 6 packed cups)
1 large jarred roasted red pepper (may substitute 10 grape tomatoes)
One 2-ounce block Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (optional)
Line a plate with paper towels. Lay the bacon slices in a large skillet. Cook over medium-low heat for 8 to 10 minutes total, until its fat has rendered and the bacon is crisp, turning it over halfway through. Transfer the bacon to the plate; once it is cool enough to handle, crumble it into small bits.
Meanwhile, bring a large pot of generously salted water to a boil over medium-high heat. Cut the shallot into 1/4-inch dice, to yield about 1/2 cup.
Reduce the heat to low. Add the shallot to the bacon fat in the skillet and cook until soft, about 3 minutes. Add the vinegar, honey, the 1/2 teaspoon of salt and the black pepper, whisking to form a blended dressing.
Add the orzo to the water and cook until al dente, 6 to 7 minutes. While that's cooking, coarsely chop the spinach. Cut the roasted red pepper into 1/4-inch pieces. Shave or grate the cheese, if using.
Drain the pasta well and transfer to a mixing bowl. Add the chopped spinach, roasted red pepper and half the dressing. Stir gently until the spinach is slightly wilted. Drizzle with the remaining dressing, add the bacon and the cheese, if using, and stir to incorporate.
Taste, and add an extra splash of vinegar, as needed. Season generously with more black pepper. Serve warm. Serves 4 to 6.
— Adapted by Bonnie S. Benwick from TheKitchn.com
Tomatoes Stuffed With Lentils and Goat Cheese
Stuffed tomatoes are always juicy — and therefore extremely hot when removed from the oven. Let them cool for a few minutes — ideally to room temperature — before diving in. I like them at all temperatures except cold. Serve alone or with a green salad and a thick piece of toast to soak up the juice.
— Abra Berens
3 to 4 large slicing tomatoes (about 2 pounds), cored
2 cups cooked lentils
4 ounces fresh goat cheese
1 medium onion, diced
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1/2 bunch parsley, stemmed, leaves left whole
1/4 cup bread crumbs (not toasted)
Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Scoop out and reserve the center flesh of the tomatoes, leaving a thick lining of flesh.
Combine the lentils, goat cheese, onion, tomato flesh, paprika, vinegar and parsley and mix to make a filling. Fill the hollowed tomatoes with the filling. Top with the breadcrumbs just before baking.
Bake until the filling is warm and the outer walls of the tomato have softened slightly, about 20 minutes. Allow to cool some and serve hot or at room temperature.
— From "Ruffage: A Practical Guide to Vegetables" by Abra Berens (Chronicle Books, $35)