My family has a small farm in the lush Willamette Valley. Cows, pigs and chickens used to roam the fields and woods. A garden the size of a city block (or at least that’s how I remember it) produced enough to feed everyone and their neighbor. Now, the livestock consists of squirrels, deer and raccoons. The garden is a manageable size, which still yields enough to share with a local Mission. And, fruit trees dot the yard, sans the Italian prune-plum that met it’s demise years ago.
Our Willamette Valley home is graced with the same prune-plum tree of my kid infused memories. It was a sucker from the neighbor’s huge tree. I was told it’d never bear fruit. Twenty years later, the tree is loaded with inky-purple plums.
I no longer live at the house. It’s been a rental for the past 6 years. And, actually, last weekend we cleaned out the garage in preparation for a pending sale and new people to enjoy the fruit in the yard.
Before saying a fond farewell to my lovely tree, I picked some fruit which I ate out-of-hand and filled a small bag for the road.
You’ve probably seen these dusty looking, egg-shaped plums at the market. Gazing at them is like seeing an indigo sky scattered with stars. Open one up and golden yellow sunrise flesh is uncovered.
Also known as Empress Plums, these small plums are a dream. They’re not terribly sweet and do have a tart skin. However, when cooked, their flesh becomes jammy heaven that I’ve turned into crisps and tarts and sauce. Mostly, though, I’d walk to the backyard, stand under the tree so I could pick and eat until my heart was content.
My springtime longing is to plant one at my new home. Of course, it would be even better if it was an upstart from a neighbor’s yard.
It was a lazy afternoon. I’d been skimming through the September issue of Sunset Magazine and noticed a recipe for stuffed peppers. And while Peter Piper picked a pail of pickled peppers, I didn’t. I’m not quite sure how you pick already pickled peppers, but it sure works for the alliteration in the little nursery rhyme, right?
Big fat peppers filled with goodness are worthy in my book any day, and I wanted to try Sunset’s recipe.
Sweet peppers take to being loaded with countless ingredients. Mini peppers with goat cheese and herbs; stubby green bells with rice and summer vegetables smothered with fresh tomato sauce and sharp cheddar to name a few. What caught my attention for Sunset’s mix was lamb.
I adore lamb. Lamb roast with garlic and red wine, thinly sliced lamb for gyros, ground lamb ragù, lamb tips or kebobs – this kinda sounds like Forrest Gump. So, I simply had to try the peppers which were to be seasoned in a Mediterranean style.
Slice peppers in half lengthwise. Pull out seeds and membranes from peppers.
Set aside 1 teaspoon garlic.
Heat a 12 inch skillet over medium high heat, rim with about a tablespoon of olive oil. Put lamb, remaining garlic and onion in the skillet. Cook over medium-high heat, until vegetables are soft and lamb is browned.
Stir in salt, pepper, allspice and cinnamon. Then add the broccoli rice. Sauté until broccoli rice is soft and bright green.
Add tomato paste and stir well to combine.
Remove from heat. Stir in mint and parsley.
Oil a 9 x 13 casserole dish. Place peppers in dish.
Spoon lamb mixture into peppers, cover with foil and bake for about an hour. Remove the foil and continue to bake for another 10 minutes or until browned on top.
While the peppers bake, mix the remaining one teaspoon garlic and two tablespoons fresh dill with the yogurt. Season to taste with salt.
Serve peppers with the yogurt-dill sauce. Enjoy!
We loved the mix of sweet and savory spices in these peppers, which was enhanced with the yogurt-dill drizzle. And, they packed a big hit vegetables.
I don’t do raw tomatoes! Sounds weird, right? Roast them, toast them, throw some balsamic or lemon juice and herbs on them and I’m good. Just don’t hand one to me expecting it to be eaten whole and untouched.
Pizza clad with tomatoes is another story. I’m mad about how when dough is topped with fresh slices of vine-ripened Roma’s they get charred, delicately sweet and soft. The flesh seems to give way, melding into the crust, sauce and cheese.
For dinner the other night I wanted to include olives with the tomatoes. The briny flavor enhanced the caramelized tomatoes. Because it was a get-it-on-the-table-now meal, I took advantage of a pre-made ball of dough from Trader Joes. When time affords, Giada’s pizza dough recipe is what I use.
We prefer a really thin, crisp crust, so what would normally be rolled out for one pizza becomes two. If the dough has rested at room temp it will be less sticky and easy to work with.
Tomato and Olive Pizza
Makes 2 pizzas
1 recipe of dough or ball, divided in half
4 to 6 tablespoon tomato paste
¼ cup olive tapenade
4 to 6 Roma tomatoes, thinly sliced in rounds
1 cup cheese blend such as Parmesan, Asiago and Gruyere
1 teaspoon each granulated garlic and salt
2 tablespoons fresh basil and/or oregano
Heat oven to 500 degrees.
Roll out dough until thin and measuring approximately 8 x 11. Move crusts to baking sheets or pizza stones.
Spread each crust with 2 to 3 tablespoons of tomato paste. I like the more concentrated flavor of paste vs sauce.
Scatter each pizza with half of the olive tapenade. A little flavor goes a long way.
Layer tomatoes on the crust, sprinkle each pizza with half of the garlic, salt and cheese.
Bake for 10 to 15 minutes until crust is brown and crispy and cheese has melted.
Top with the fresh herbs and enjoy.
You can always use different tomatoes, in fact, I have a yellow heirloom just waiting to be used. And while fresh herbs are the best, dried will do perfectly well in a pinch. Just remember that the ratio of fresh to dried is different. One tablespoon fresh means one teaspoon dried; more or less.
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My Papa grew the big oval melons with green zig-zag stripes and a creamy yellow underbelly. We’d go out to the garden – which to a little kid seemed to be the size of forever – where he’d thump, roll over and plug to uncover a perfectly ripe melon. It all seemed like some sort of alchemy to a small girl, not that I would have even known the word “alchemy” back then. Continue reading →