As much as I love cooking, I still don’t want to spend all my time in the kitchen. Especially in the summer when I’m consigned to an area that’s about 9 feet by 4 feet of walking around space. I know, it’s a perfectly good size for an apartment kitchen; it’s just really small compared to the kitchens I’ve been cooking in for the last 33 years.
So when I lose my mind at the farmers’ market, as I did last Sunday – okay, most Sundays – I have to find ways to clear fridge space as well as work space, and minimize the time I spend on meals for the rest of the week.
❶ I start with the beets. A bunch of beets with its leafy tops takes up a ridiculous amount of space in the fridge. Turn the oven on to 400º. Cut the stems off the beets and stick them (the stems) in a couple of inches of water in the sink. Put the beets themselves into a covered casserole dish (no need to wash them) and bake in the oven for 45 minutes.
When they’re done, let the beets cool until you can handle them, then gently rub the skins off with your fingers. (The Kitchen Goddess uses rubber gloves because God forbid she should get beet juice under her nails.) Store them in the fridge for up to 3-4 days until you find time to make a beet salad.
|Beets -- roasted, peeled, ready for whatever|
❷ As long as I’ve got the oven on, I grab a head of garlic – which you can do even if you don’t buy beets – for roasting. Roasted garlic is so fabulous that the Kitchen Goddess wonders what she ever did before she discovered it. It can take the place of chopped garlic in a salad dressing or a pasta dish or to enhance the flavor in a dish you might not ordinarily add it to. It has none of that pungency nor the burn of raw garlic, and baking it ahead of use brings out its sweet and savory characteristics. I recently experimented with it in a mushroom risotto, which disappeared like *poof!* when I served it to my family. It’s excellent in mashed potatoes and even on its own as a spread with bruschetta.
For the Roasted Garlic:
|Garlic before roasting|
■ Slice enough of the top off the head to expose most of the individual cloves. The Kitchen Goddess goes a little overboard here and trims the tops off even the cloves lower down on the side of the head; you should go as far as you want.
■ Set the bulb in an ovenproof dish. You may want to trim the base of the bulb just enough to let it sit flat.
■ Drizzle a tablespoon of olive oil over the garlic, and sprinkle on a pinch of kosher salt.
|Garlic after roasting|
■ If you’re not planning to use it immediately, store the roasted garlic in an airtight container in the fridge, where it will keep for a couple of weeks.
❸ Back to the beet greens. Once they’ve soaked the dirt off, spin them dry and lay them between layers of paper towels. Stack the layers and maneuver the lot into a gallon-size zip-lock bag. Squeeze as much air out of the bag as you can and store in the refrigerator until ready for cooking.
❹ Now for those giant heads of lettuce. Follow the same procedure as for the beet greens (or turnip greens or collards, etc.): wash/soak them in a sinkful of cold water to get the dirt off, spin them dry, then layer them with paper towels and – gently – jam the lot into another zip-lock bag. Once you’ve squeezed the air out, they’re like those vacuum-sealed bags you can buy to store your blankets or whatever – they consume a fraction of the space for a head of lettuce, and they don’t even have to be in a vegetable drawer.
The best part about dealing with the lettuce like this is that you can make a salad at a moment’s notice. Moreover, the lettuce stays fresh this way for about TWO WEEKS (you heard me), as long as you remember to squeeze the air out again each time you remove some.
|Two heads of lettuce, fresh from the farmers' market.|
Now that you’re completely organized, you can make a salad. Summer salads are the best because of the wealth of fresh ingredients available. My favorites start with a bowlful of torn lettuce leaves, and add at least 2 – or as many as you like – of the following (in no particular order):
Avocado (cubed or sliced)
Berries: blueberries, strawberries, raspberries, blackberries
Peas: sugar snap peas, snow peas, or English peas
Corn: no cooking needed, just cut it right off the cob
Cucumber (cubed or sliced)
Peach (½-inch dice)
Radishes, thinly sliced
Then add your favorite not-too-complex dressing, which might even be a bottled dressing. I will confess here to a fondness for Newman’s Own Caesar Dressing. Here’s a great one, from one of my previous posts, with the addition of one of those roasted garlic cloves:
Honey-Lemon Salad Dressing
3 tablspoons fresh lemon juice
3 tablespoons honey
½ teaspoon salt
1 clove roasted garlic (optional)
½ cup olive oil
fresh ground pepper
Whisk together the honey, lemon juice, and salt. Mash the garlic into it. Add the olive oil in a stream, whisking constantly as you pour. Add the pepper and adjust the seasoning to taste.