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Volume 38 Issue 12, July 17 - 23, 2008
now in our 38th season

Summer Traditions

by Maryjane Mojer
Executive Chef, Bartlett's Ocean View Farm

Traditions are so very important, and making new ones is always a surprise and a joy. In my family, when I was growing up, my dad and I had the tradition of cutting our Christmas tree. Just before Christmas, Dad and I would venture into the woods, pick the perfect tree. About a month before this, Dad’s rhetoric would begin. “Can you hear them Maryjane? Can you hear the drums? The spirits of the forest know we’re coming to cut a tree, and they’re ready for us.” Well, by the time we actually climbed into his Willys and drove into the woods, my heart would be beating so fast and so hard I thought it was the drums of the spirits of the forest. Suffice it to say, the first tree we saw was always the one that I wanted and, watching over my shoulder, convinced the spirits were angry and about to leap out made the task very, very quick. Ah, memories.

Summer is filled with family traditions, and this time of year, there’s a certain beat, too, and a readiness for the real summer treat; native corn. The quest for it and the acquisition of it should not be nearly as fearsome as say, cutting down a Christmas tree. Nope, this should be an easy, fun adventure. The questions started about a month ago as a dull hum and this week have escalated, not quite to a frenzy, but pretty darn close. Generally it’s about four weeks from tassel to harvest. The stalks tasseled up about three weeks ago, so very, very soon fresh, local corn should grace your tables.

Native tomatoes are just about ready, too. The hothouse tomatoes are pretty spectacular, but the fruit ripened and picked in the field is just that much more special.

As with most vegetables, the simpler the preparation, the better. A slice of tomato, still warm from the sun between slices of fresh Portuguese bread with a big smear of mayonnaise, and a sprinkling of salt and pepper…now there’s an annual tradition that makes my heart beat faster (though without the fear.) Enjoying fresh vegetables just as they are is a treat. However, gilding the lily a bit from time to time never hurts. Also, there are times when one great tomato turns into ten pounds or more, and twelve ears of corn turns into leftovers. What then?

Bruschetta is a versatile, great appetizer and can be topped with just about anything. Grill slices of bread over coals or on your gas grill until golden. I do like to go a bit further than golden myself…a nice light char adds a lot of flavor. Do watch as you grill. Too much of a char tastes just plain burned.
When you’ve toasted or grilled your bread, rub it with a cut garlic clove. This simple step imparts a lot of fresh garlic flavor to the bread without overwhelming it. You could certainly just drizzle the toasted, garlic rubbed bread with olive oil (and this is just what the really good stuff is for!). A sprinkle of salt and pepper or some freshly shaved Parmigianino Reggiano and a glass of your favorite red wine and it’s the start of a great summer evening.

If you find yourself with a bowlful of gorgeous, ripe tomatoes, the following is a recipe that Jake, my youngest son, came up with about five or six years ago.

Jakes Tomato Bruschetta topping

  • Six medium to large tomatoes, core removed, seeds scooped out
  • 2 cloves fresh garlic, minced
  • Ten or more leaves fresh basil
  • One half cup extra virgin olive oil
  • Two tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • Sea Salt
  • Fresh ground black pepper
  1. Rough chop the tomatoes and scoop into a bowl. Toss with minced garlic, olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
  2. Stack your basil leaves together (do only five or so at a time) one on top of the other. Roll up like cigars, and using a very sharp knife, slice into a chiffonade or ribbons. Add to your tomato mixture.
  3. Taste, and add salt and pepper.
  4. Jake found that letting this sit at room temperature for about an hour really allows the tomatoes and other flavors to blend well.
  5. After your bread is toasted, top each slice with a generous spoonful of your tomato mixture.
  6. A grilled shrimp or scallop on top and served with a fresh green salad can make this into an elegant, cool, summer meal.

Crostini is another way to simply toast bread to use as a vessel for your bruschetta. Simply slice your baguette into half inch slices, spritz or brush with olive oil, and top with salt and pepper. Into the oven (preheated to 400 degrees, bake for about twenty minutes till golden brown) and let cool completely. These also make tremendous croutons for your gazpacho, topped with a slice of fresh mozzarella and a drizzle of olive oil.

As for corn, we like to grill ours. I spent a lot of time over the years peeling back the husk, pulling off the silk, pulling the husk back up and fastening the top in some sort of knot, soaking it for hours, peeling the husk again and serving. Too much wasted time that could have been spent with a cold, summer cocktail and my family.

Now, I take the corn, plunge it as is into a bucket of water with kosher salt (For two gallons of water, I use about a half cup of salt, stir till dissolved.) After soaking for an hour or so, I drain it and throw it on the grill, rolling it around until the husk is well charred. If I have an open, pit fire, I toss it right on top of the coals, and move it around. Yes, it will be very hot when you peel it. It will also be very fragrant, very tender and incredibly delicious. I myself am a purist when it comes to corn and like it just as is. My husband is a butter slather-er and uses lots of salt and pepper. Admittedly, his is pretty terrific, but I really like just plain corn.

As for the leftover corn, if there is such a thing, scrape it right off the husks and mix it into your tomato bruschetta topping. As far as summer leftovers go, sometimes too much of a good thing makes way for other good things and can be the start of new summer traditions.

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