By Claire Criscuolo, author of Welcome to Claire's
With about four weeks of summer left, it's time to buckle down and...eat. Suffering late summer fatigue? Don't know what to do with your CSA bounty? Now's the time to really take advantage of everything that's wonderfully, perfectly in season. Because after all, we've only got about a month left of heirloom tomatoes, berries, sweet summer corn...
There are some recipes that exemplify everything I love about a season. This soup would be my example of why I love summer. I can use a variety of organic heirloom tomatoes, lovely bell peppers, and basil -- perfectly delicious because they are picked right from my backyard garden or from my favorite local farmer. And in our area, we have two terrific producers of fresh ricotta cheese, so I can pick it up fresh and still warm. It really doesn't get any better than that.
Pickled eggplant is one of those recipes that let you "save summer" and at the end of the season. I buy a case of eggplant, invite my nieces and a few friends over to a "party" and we sit around the kitchen table laughing, catching up, and pickling. I share the jars with all who attend, and always save two jars - one for each of my brothers -- they love it, too. Pickled eggplant is a part of every antipasto plate at our house, and they make a wonderful and handy snack served with crostini or good Italian bread. Add a glass of wine and you have a good excuse to invite a friend over to share "summer."
Chilled Heirloom Tomato Soup with Ricotta, Basil Pesto, and Pine Nuts
During the summer, I grow most of our organic heirloom tomatoes for Claire’s. And every year I expand the gardens because of recipes like this one, where the quality of the tomatoes is integral to the flavor. This year I hope to exceed my record of producing 3,000 pounds of tomatoes! Make this pretty and absolutely delicious soup straight from the garden or the farm and enjoy the glorious bounty of the season.
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 large shallot, chopped
10 large, assorted locally grown heirloom tomatoes, cut into wedges
1 large orange bell pepper, seeded and chopped
4 large leaves basil
Salt and pepper, to taste
1/2 cup ricotta cheese, preferably hand-packed
3/4 cup basil pesto, fresh or a good store-bought variety
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
- Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the shallot and cook for about 1 minute, stirring frequently until softened. Add the tomatoes, bell pepper, basil leaves, salt, and pepper. Cover and cook for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally until the tomatoes are soft and have given off much of their liquid. Remove from the heat.
- Turn into the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Cover and process for about 20 seconds until blended. Taste for seasonings. Pour into a bowl and set aside until the mixture reaches room temperature, then refrigerate for a couple of hours until chilled; you may refrigerate overnight if desired.
- To serve, ladle 1 cup of soup into each of six shallow rimmed bowls. Spoon a heaping tablespoon of ricotta in the center of each bowl. Spoon 2 tablespoons of pesto on top of the ricotta in each bowl. Scatter several toasted pine nuts evenly over the soup.
Makes five 8-ounce jars
I save empty glass jars to store Pickled Eggplant, Strawberry-Mint Vinegar, and other foods that I make. Glass is clean, non-porous, and safe, and I prefer it to plastic.
8 cups organic white vinegar
8 cups water
3 medium-large eggplants, about 3 pounds
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus additional for topping off the jars of pickled eggplant
8 cloves organic garlic, coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon minced hot cherry peppers, jalapeño peppers, or other hot peppers
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
Freshly ground black pepper
- Clean and dry five 8-ounce glass jars. Set aside.
- Pour the white vinegar and the water into an 8-quart pot. Cover and bring to a simmer over high heat. Lower the heat to the warm setting and keep warm while you proceed with the recipe.
- Peel the eggplants and trim the ends. Cut each eggplant in half lengthwise. Slice one half into 1/4-inch slices, then stack and slice widthwise into 1/8-inch strips. Place the strips in a bowl and sprinkle with a generous amount of salt and toss well to mix. Repeat the process of slicing, salting, and tossing until all the eggplant has been sliced. It will seem like you’re using a lot of salt and you are, but you need it for the eggplant to release its moisture, and the vinegar bath will remove any overly salty taste.
- By the time you finish slicing the eggplant, it will have released a lot of dark liquid. Set a colander in the sink. Raise the heat under the pot of vinegar to medium and bring it to a simmer. You’ll be working quickly for the next few minutes, so avoid any distractions or you’ll overcook the eggplant and make it mushy. Remove the cover from the pot and pick up a handful of the eggplant. Using both hands, squeeze as much liquid out of the eggplant as you can, letting the dark juices fall back into the bowl. Carefully lower the eggplant into the simmering vinegar. Continue quickly squeezing handfuls of the eggplant, then adding them to the vinegar. Stir the eggplant with a slotted spoon. Immediately after adding the last of the eggplant, carefully drain the eggplant into the colander you’ve set in the sink. Squeeze out as much liquid as you can. I place a cover from a small pot on the eggplant, then use my hands to press on it to squeeze out the excess vinegar bath.
- Turn the eggplant into a bowl. Add 1/3 cup of olive oil and the garlic, peppers, oregano, and a little black pepper. Toss well to combine. Taste for seasonings. Pack the eggplant mixture into the clean glass jars, stopping 1 inch from the top. Add olive oil to fill the jars completely. Cover and tighten the lids on the jars. Label the jars and add the date. Set aside in a cool, dry place (unrefrigerated) for 5 days.
- Open the jars every day and add olive oil as needed to fill the jars as the eggplant absorbs some of the oil. Cover tightly after checking each day. After 5 days, store in the refrigerator for up to 5 months. Serve at room temperature.