homemade Italian herb salt | writes4food.com

End-of-the-garden herbed salt.

The basil is browning at the edges. The summer savory’s long-gone, and the oregano has struggled as we’ve gone from excessive moisture to very dry conditions. The herbs in my garden are on their last legs. Most of them, anyway: The chives, tarragon and thyme are happy and lush.

If your garden is in the same shape, then you might use this recipe for herb-infused salt as a way to preserve the flavors for months to come. This recipe is inspired by an Italian herbed salt blend that my brother hooked me on years ago. The method is pretty simple: just finely chop fresh herbs and mix with fine sea salt; garlic and bay leaves infuse the mixture for just a few days before they’re discarded. Salt is a natural preservative, so the herbs retain their bright flavor (without worry of molding). Keep a jar of this herb-infused salt near your stove. I find myself reaching for a pinch of it nearly every time I cook.

herb infused sea salt recipe

1 cup fine sea salt
1 Tbsp. each of the following fresh herbs, finely chopped: thyme, oregano, basil, rosemary, sage
2–3 fresh or dried bay leaves
1 large clove garlic, peeled

Skewer the bay leaves and garlic on a toothpick. Mix the salt and herbs well in a glass jar with a lid; embed the skewer in the salt. Let the mixture sit at room temperature for a week, shaking the jar well every day. After a week, discard the garlic-bay skewer. Salt keeps in a cool place for 3–4 months; the flavor will deepen over time.

how to make a classic chopped salad

Perfect chop salad.

We’re in a season of transition, local produce-wise: still a few cherry tomatoes available, some late-season green beans, a bit of corn, potatoes. The lettuce in my garden is not yet producing (though I’ve seen it at farmers’ markets) — so my favorite salad option in these days that waver between summer and fall is to make an amazing chop salad with whatever ingredients I have on hand.

Generally, I’ll skip the lettuce and instead make my chop salad out of, literally, chopped vegetables. Last week, it was red bell peppers, canned chickpeas, diced avocado, fresh corn off the cob, halved cherry tomatoes and some fresh herbs from the garden.

The thing with creating a great chop salad is to incorporate a variety of textures, but to keep the ingredients fairly similar in size. The chop salad recipe below is more of a suggestion. Include whatever fresh veggies you love, season them well before dressing, and toss them with a simple vinaigrette. Make a meal out of the chop salad by adding diced cooked chicken, slices of leftover grilled steak or cooked shrimp. A loaf of good bread, homemade butter and a nice light red wine make a perfect early-fall supper.

No matter how you toss the chopped salad, you can’t go wrong.

Really Good Chop Salad recipe

For the salad, use any of these ingredients (per serving) or come up with your own additions:

1/4 red or yellow bell pepper, diced
1 ear fresh corn, kernels cut off
1/2 carrot, shredded
handful of cherry tomatoes, halved
1/4 cucumber, diced
1/4 can chickpeas or white beans, drained
1/2 cup chopped iceberg lettuce or baby arugula
1/2 avocado, diced
1/2 cup fresh green beans, cut into pieces and lightly steamed
1–2 new potatoes, diced and lightly steamed
1 Tbsp. toasted pine nuts or salted sunflower seeds
cheese of your choice, crumbled: Feta, blue, goat
fresh herbs of your choice, chopped: basil, chives, tarragon, parsley

1 recipe easy lemon vinaigrette

Combine the vegetables in a large bowl, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Add the nuts and cheese. Drizzle the lemon vinaigrette into the bowl and toss gently to coat the vegetables lightly with dressing. Serve immediately.

spaghetti squash with meatballs and fresh tomato sauce recipe | writes4food.com

Spaghetti squash and meatballs with quick tomato sauce.

I’m not ready to give up on summer tomatoes and corn. Yet the acorn and spaghetti squashes, sweet potatoes and broccoli I’m seeing at the farmers’ market look so appealing. So I’m finding dishes like this recipe for spaghetti squash with fresh tomato sauce and meatballs that sort of straddle the seasons. We get the best of both worlds, no?

So, let’s start with the meatballs. Over the weekend, I made a batch of Giada de Laurentiis’s orzo-and-ricotta meatballs from a recent issue of Food & Wine. You could use your own favorite meatball recipe, or pick up some prepared meatballs from the butcher shop. I refrigerated a half-dozen meatballs for this dish, and tucked the rest into a zip-top bag in the freezer.

I couldn’t resist the gorgeous spaghetti squash I spotted at Findlay Market last weekend, so that became the foundation of this recipe in lieu of traditional pasta. I’ve found that the easiest way to cook spaghetti squash is to boil it in a big pot — it’s quick and foolproof, resulting in perfectly al dente strands of sunny squashy goodness.

Finally, I made up a quick fresh tomato sauce using grated tomatoes. I spotted the grating technique for tomatoes in a magazine recently, and decided to give it a try. Grating the tomatoes on the large holes of a box grater results in a fresh tomato pulp that cooks into sauce quite quickly. The prep and cooking time for the sauce total about 25 minutes, so this recipe makes an easy weeknight dinner (especially if you prep the meatballs ahead). Flavor the sauce with sprigs of whatever fresh herb you happen to have on hand.

Quick fresh tomato sauce recipe

(makes about 4 cups)

Cut 4 large tomatoes in half and remove the seeds. Grate the tomatoes on a box or Microplane grater with large holes into a large bowl — watch those knuckles! (You'll have about 4 cups of pulp.) Grate 1/2 a medium red onion (about 1/3 cup); press 2 large garlic cloves through a garlic press. In a large saucepan, warm a glug of olive oil over medium heat. Reduce heat and add the onion; cook, stirring frequently, until it softens, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook 1 minute more. Add a pinch of salt. Add the tomato pulp and 2 or 3 sprigs of fresh herb (I used basil, thyme and tarragon). Bring to a boil; reduce heat and cook until the sauce thickens slightly and the flavors blend, about 20 minutes. Remove the herb sprigs, season well with salt and pepper (for a kick of smoky heat, add a generous pinch of Aleppo pepper or pimenton).

To serve the spaghetti squash with meatballs and fresh tomato sauce

serves 4

Prepare the tomato sauce; while it's cooking, put a big pot of water on to boil for the squash. Boil the squash, covered, for 20–30 minutes, or until the tip of a small paring knife easily pierces the flesh. See this post for more details on the best way to cook spaghetti squash. When you remove the squash to cool before cutting it open and removing the delicious, spaghetti-like strands, add the meatballs to the sauce to warm them through. Toss the squash with a bit of olive oil, salt and pepper. Place a pile of spaghetti squash on each plate, then top with the meatballs and sauce; finish with a big sprinkle of freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

FindlayMarketCookbook Cover

Sneak peek: The Findlay Market Cookbook.

I just saw the cover design for my forthcoming cookbook, and I’m so excited to share it with you! “The Findlay Market Cookbook” will be available in late October at any of your favorite Findlay Market vendors. Beginning in January, the book will be available in local Cincinnati bookstores.

Take a look at a few of the recipes from the cookbook here.

Spanish vegetable rice pilaf recipe | writes4food.com

Rice pilaf with summer vegetables.

Honestly, I’ve no idea how I’ve managed to NOT share this recipe for rice pilaf with vegetables before now. I’ve had it forever. We make it often. It just seems so, well, simple … almost too simple to post.

But it’s so delicious, it’s high time to share it.

This veggie-packed rice pilaf recipe dates from the very early portion of our married life, when I moved to Cincinnati after Rob and I got hitched. We went to Cook’s Wares to add a few items to our tiny (tiny!!!!) apartment kitchen. A chef was demonstrating and sampling the most delicious rice dish studded with red bell pepper and zucchini; she called it “Peonais” or Catalan Rice Pilaf. When we got home, I copied the recipe onto a card, which has since acquired various and assorted smudges and stains because we’ve made it so often. (As an aside, when I searched the word ‘peonais,’ Google turns up nothing; it’s entirely possible that I either misspelled the word when copying the recipe, or it’s just something made-up.)

We make this recipe in a Le Creuset braising pan — which, as it happens, we won in a giveaway on that trip to the cookware store. The ingredients practically spill out of the pan (this rice pilaf recipe makes enough to feed a crowd). It’s fantastic for a satisfying meatless dinner (swap vegetable or tomato broth for the chicken stock). Armed with a glut of cherry tomatoes and giant red bell peppers from the garden, I was happy to make this again recently. Wonderfully, this is one of those recipes that get better the next day; this rice pilaf is fantastic for lunch with a few crackers and nibbles of cheese.

Catalan rice pilaf

makes 6 servings

3 Tbsp. olive oil
red bell pepper flakes
1 large onion, diced
1 zucchini, diced
2 red bell peppers, diced
2 14-ounce cans diced tomatoes, drained
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 cups arborio rice
2 1/2 cups chicken, vegetable or tomato broth
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

In a large saute pan, warm the olive oil; add the dried pepper and cook until it's fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the chopped onion and saute for 5 minutes; add the garlic. Reduce heat and simmer the onion and garlic until they're soft and translucent (but not brown), about 15–20 minutes. Add the peppers and zucchini and cook until they soften. Add the tomatoes; bring to a boil. Add the rice and broth. Reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for about 30 minutes. Add the chopped parsley and simmer 5 minutes more. Season the pilaf well with salt and pepper. Serve hot or at room temperature.

how to make quick fresh tomato sauce

Easy fresh tomato sauce.

If technology was really as good as it could be, you’d be smelling the wonderful tomato-garlic aroma coming from my kitchen through your computer screen as you read this post. But since computers don’t (yet!) have a scratch-and-sniff function, you’ll have to take my word for it.

This unusually temperate summer and ample rain has produced a glut of tomatoes in my garden. [As an aside, I can’t recommend highly enough the grafted tomato plants from Jung Seed Co. I planted three cherry varieties: Bumble Bee Pink, Sweet Aperitif and Sun Sugar, and I’ve never had such a bounty of tomatoes from my own backyard.] I wish I’d kept record of the number of pounds of cherry tomatoes I’ve harvested. Next year. There’s always next year.

After another big picking this week, I’ve got a colander full of salad-sized cherry tomatoes simmering with fresh garlic (also from my garden) and sprigs of herbs. I wanted to share this recipe for making tomato sauce out of fresh garden tomatoes; the recipe calls for full-sized tomatoes, peeled, but the cherry tomatoes I’m using work well, too. In a few minutes, I’ll transfer the sauce to prepared pint jars and process them in a water bath canner for 15 minutes.

While tomatoes are still plentiful at farmers’ markets, you’ll want to make this fresh tomato sauce recipe, too. If you’re not into canning, no worries: You can ladle the cooled sauce into plastic containers or quart-sized zip-top bags and freeze it for later.

Like, in February, when you’ll be craving the flavors of summer tomatoes.

easy fresh tomato sauce recipe

(makes about 4 cups)

3 lb. fresh ripe tomatoes (about 5 large)
4–5 sprigs fresh herbs (basil, oregano, tarragon and/or thyme)
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. granulated sugar
freshly ground pepper

Set a colander or strainer over a bowl. Peel the tomatoes: One easy trick is to scrape the blade of a small paring knife over the entire tomato to loosen the skin, which makes it easy to remove the skin by pulling it off in sections. Set the tomato peels in the strainer. Halve the tomatoes and use your fingers to scoop the seeds into the strainer. Tear the tomatoes into chunks and place them in a large pot. Use your hands to squeeze as much liquid as you can from the seeds and skin; transfer the liquid to the pot. Add salt, sugar and whole herb sprigs; add a generous grind of black pepper. Over medium-high heat, bring the mixture to a boil; reduce heat and gently simmer for 45–60 minutes, until sauce thickens. Taste and adjust seasonings. Remove the herb sprigs before using.


ELFTG logo

Drink, dine and support Findlay Market!

Don’t miss this fantastic opportunity in Cincinnati: Dine with the city’s best chefs, enjoy wines paired with their food at 12 tasting stations and mingle with your neighbors — all while supporting the nonprofit organization that manages our historic Findlay Market! Eat Local for the Globe is Thursday evening (and the weather’s gonna be perfect).

Findlay Market has invited chefs to shop the market and partner with Market vendors. Teams include:

odd Kelly, Orchid’s + Eckerlin’s + Colonel De
Jean Robert de Cavel, Jean Robert’s Table + Luken’s
Julie Francis, Nectar + Pho Lang Thang
Joe West, The Palace + Mama Lo Hizo
Joel Malloy, Nicola’s + Fresh Table
Adam Cobb, Enoteca Emilia + Mediterranean Imports
Ryan Santos, Please, + Eli’s BBQ
Suzanne Church, Metropole + Dojo Gelato
Renee Schuler, Eat Well + Taste of Belgium
Stephen Williams, Bouquet + Madison’s and Grandma Debbie’s
Dave Taylor & Jason Rose, Jeff Ruby’s
Travis Maier, The Precinct
Bouchard’s, Maverick Chocolate, Mimi’s, Velvet Smoke, and more.

Purchase tickets here and join us Thursday evening.

Jungle Jims Cooking School

Join me for a cooking class with favorite vintage recipes.

I invite you to join me on Tuesday, September 9 for a class I’m teaching at The Cooking School at Jungle Jim’s in Fairfield, OH, called “Grandma’s Blue Ribbon Recipes.” I’ll be sharing a recipe from The Clara Project, plus three of my grandmother’s best recipes and another I’ve discovered in a vintage cookbook. These are all heartwarming, simple and comforting recipes:

  • Classic cheese straws (made with a cookie press!)
  • Grandma’s homemade egg noodles
  • Easy chicken stock
  • Chocolate pudding cake
  • Old-fashioned lemon icebox cake

Register for the class here.

recipe for pasta with Sun Gold tomato sauce (via Bon Appetit) | writes4food.com

Spiced yellow cherry tomato pasta sauce.

I first spied this tomato sauce recipe, with its unexpected combination of dried spices and fresh herbs, in Bon Appetit last summer. I cut the recipe out of the magazine and pinned it to the bulletin board above the kitchen sink. It’s been there since—I could not wait to make this warm and spicy sauce recipe again this summer.

Good thing my Sun Sugar tomatoes are prolific right now: I love their sunny sweetness, and they’re so abundant that I’ve made several batches of this sauce already. (Tip for tomato gardeners: If you find split or blemished tomatoes, don’t compost them; stash them in a freezer bag and make sauce when the bag is full.)

Get yourself a quart of cherry tomatoes, some star anise and cloves, some fresh herbs. Make this sauce. In quantity. Store it in the freezer. Do it now, while sweet yellow cherry tomatoes are abundant.

spiced yellow cherry tomato pasta sauce recipe

(serves 4)

2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 small onion, chopped fine
2 cloves garlic, chopped fine
2 sprigs basil
1 sprig thyme
1 sprig tarragon
1 star anise
1 whole clove
2 pints Sun Gold cherry tomatoes, halved (about 4 cups)
2 tsp. red wine vinegar
kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
4 servings dried spaghetti (about 8 oz.)

In a medium skillet, warm the olive oil over medium heat; add the onion and cook, stirring frequently, until it softens (lower the heat if needed; you don't want the onion to get brown and crispy). Add the garlic, herb sprigs and spices; cook and stir until you smell the richness of the herbs and spices, about 2 minutes. Add the Sun Gold tomatoes and vinegar; cook, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes break down and become saucy, about 10 minutes. Remove the herb sprigs, clove and star anise and season the sauce with salt and pepper. Cook the spaghetti according to package directions, use tongs to transfer it to the skillet with the sauce, adding a bit of pasta cooking water to thin the sauce if needed. Cook the spaghetti and sauce together for a minute or two, stirring to coat the pasta well and infuse it with the flavor of the sauce.

simple potato salad with lemon vinaigrette recipe | writes4food.com

Lemony potato salad.

It seems so French to make a potato salad with vinaigrette dressing instead of mayonnaise … even more so to add a few crisp-tender green beans to the mix. I think of this as a spartan version of Salade Niçoise, without the tuna or egg (though you could add either, or both).

This French-style potato salad recipe is very bright-tasting, perfect for outdoor picnics or indoor dinners on the hottest summer nights. The potatoes and green beans cook in the same pot, so you won’t be standing over the stove for very long. If you’re like me, you have a glass jar of lemony vinaigrette in the fridge pretty much all the time, so the dressing is super easy. Toss in a few chopped fresh herbs from your garden or the farmers’ market, and voila!

 potato salad with green beans and lemon vinaigrette recipe

serves 4

1 pound small new potatoes, scrubbed and cut into bite-sized pieces
1/2 pound slender green beans, trimmed and cut into 2-inch pieces
easy lemon vinaigrette
handful of fresh herbs of your choice, chopped
salt and freshly ground pepper

Bring a pot of well-salted water to a boil; add the new potatoes and cook for 10 minutes. Add the green beans and continue cooking until the beans are crisp-tender and the potatoes are tender. Drain and transfer the vegetables to a serving bowl; while they're still warm, drizzle in lemon vinaigrette to coat. Let cool. Before serving, season to taste with salt and pepper, and gently stir in the chopped herbs. Add more dressing if needed.