August 29, 2015 Watermelon Cucumber Gazpacho

DSC_4101aDuring the warm summer days of August, there is nothing better to keep you cool and well nourished than a bowl of gazpacho. I took a break from the never ending pile of tomatoes that I am canning to make this gazpacho that is ironically, or was that intentionally, made without tomatoes  In this version, the delicate flavors of  watermelon and cucumber go hand in hand to make a sweet and savory soup.  A natural combination, since both cucumbers and watermelons, along with all varieties of squash, are members of the cucurbit family.

Choose your watermelon carefully, it should be dull in color,  a shiny melon indicates that it’s underripe. It should also be uniform in size, an irregular shape indicates inconsistent amounts of water or sun. Check out the field patch, the place that the watermelon rested on the ground.  A creamy yellow indicates that the melon had a longer time to ripen on the vine and develop more flavor. When you pick it up, the melon should feel heavy for it’s size.  Watermelons are 92% water and the ripest ones have the highest water content. This is the prime time for cucumbers at the farmers markets.  I am fortunate that I can pick fresh cucumbers right from the garden.  They are abundant and nothing compares to the sweet juicy sweet flavor of a just picked one.

In the spirit of the season, no cooking is required for this recipe. The most time consuming part of this recipe is cutting the vegetables, but it is a worthwhile step. They stay cool and crispy in the soup and are a nice contrast to the watermelon-cucumber broth. Adjust the balance of savory and sweet, along with the amount of mint and heat according to your own taste. Refrigerate for several hours before serving so the flavors will have time to blend together, it’s even better if you have time, to refrigerate overnight.  If you do refrigerate overnight, adjust the seasonings again since the cubed melon will exude more liquid and potentially dull the flavor. This soup would be perfect as a first course on a warm summer evening.


Watermelon Cucumber Gazpacho

Serves four


  • 1 3-pound seedless watermelon, diced (about 5 cups), divided
  • 1 medium cucumber, peeled, seeded, diced (about 2 cups)
  • 1 medium-size red bell pepper, seeded, diced (about 1 cup)
  • 1 medium-size yellow bell pepper, seeded, diced (about 1 cup)
  • 1 small jalapeño chile, seeded, minced
  • 3 pale green inner celery stalks, diced (about 1/2 cup)
  • 1/2 small red onion, diced (about 1 cup)
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh mint
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt


  1. Puree 4 cups watermelon in blender until smooth. Transfer puree to large bowl. Add remaining 1 cup diced watermelon and next 10 ingredients; stir to combine. Cover gazpacho and refrigerate until cold, at least 1 hour and up to 4 hours.



August 20, 2015 Cucumber, Basil and Peanut Salad

DSC_4048aThese days Joe is bringing in more cucumbers than I know what to do with them. I’m really not complaining, the season is short and I am using them in as many salads and cold soups as I can find recipes. Native to India, cucumbers require 70°F plus soil and air temperatures to grow but have a relatively short time from sowing to harvest. He has had great success growing them in the greenhouse that is situated in the garden. That environment provides just slightly warmer temperatures.
Since cucumbers are 96% water they are happiest when watered on a consistent basis. A well watered cucumber vine will produce the sweetest fruit. We stick with two varieties that produce well, Persian and Bush Champion. Persian cucumbers are small, about 6 inches long and 3/4 inch diameter with smooth edible skin and undeveloped seeds. They are the perfect size for pickling, if that is your inclination. Bush Champions are a bush variety that take one third of the space and are also suitable for containers.

One of my all time favorite cucumber salads to make is a Thai cucumber salad.  Light and crunchy, it is quick and easy to make, combining sweet, spicy and tangy flavors. The dressing draws most of it’s ingredients from the Asian pantry. Seasoned rice vinegar is either made from sake or by adding salt and sugar to regular white rice vinegar and is an easy boost to the sweet, salty and tangy elements of a dish. Plain rice wine vinegar is a bit more versatile and could be substituted. Just remember to adjust the seasonings accordingly. Whether you call it nam pla, nuoc nam or patis, fish sauce is made from the liquid drained from fermented anchovies and is a flavor enhancer like salt or soy sauce. A little goes a long way here. I am partial to the Three Crabs brand that is readily available in Asian markets. Sesame oil was one of the first exotic ingredients to grace our kitchen. Be sure to look for toasted sesame oil. It is dark in color and has a very intense aroma and flavor. Use Thai basil in this salad if you can find it. The beautifully named Siam Queen is one of the varieties we grow. The plant is more compact in apppearance than the standard Italian basil with smaller bright green leaves. There are clusters of purple flowers at the top of the plant. It has an intense licorice aroma and flavor.

To make the salad, add the rice vinegar, sesame oil, lime juice and fish sauce to a large bowl. Peel about 1½ lbs cucumbers, I leave a little skin on for color contrast. Slice in half lengthwise, scoop out the seeds and slice diagonally into crescents. Peeling the cucumber allows the flavors of the dressing to be absorbed right into the flesh. Add cucumbers, basil and peanuts to the bowl, toss and serve. So simple to make, refreshing Thai cucumber salad is as much a natural next to a grilled satay as it is with your standard picnic fare.

Cucumber vines in the greenhouse.
Cucumber vines in the greenhouse.
This little flower is the beginning of a cucumber.
This little flower is the beginning of a cucumber.
Persian cucumber in the middle, flanked by the spiny Bush Champions.
Persian cucumber in the middle, flanked by the spiny Bush Champions.

I removed the seeds for this salad but really didn't need to.

Beautiful Siam Queen basil.
Beautiful Siam Queen basil.


Cucumber, Basil and Peanut Salad

Adapted from Fine Cooking magazine

Serves six


  • 3T seasoned rice vinegar
  • 1t Asian sesame oil
  • 1t fresh lime juice
  • 1t fish sauce
  • 1½lb cucumbers
  • ¼c torn basil leaves (Thai is preferred)
  • ¼c coarsely chopped salted peanuts


  1. In a large bowl, mix the first four ingredients.
  2. Peel cucumbers (I like to leave small strips of skin for contrast), slice in half lengthwise. Scoop out the seeds and slice diagonally into ¼ inch crescents.
  3. Add the cucumbers, torn basil and peanuts to the bowl with the vinaigrette, toss and serve.


August 13, 2015 Yellow Tomato Gazpacho

DSC_3992aIn August, when tomatoes are at their peak, I enjoy making cool and refreshing soups like this yellow tomato gazpacho. This recipe, a classic from Los Angeles chef Suzanne Goin from her cookbook, Sunday Suppers at Lucques, combines a few of summer’s best offerings and comes together in very little time.

This is a recipe that demands the freshest of ingredients, whether your tomatoes were picked right from the garden or bought at the farmers market. Our bright yellow Sweet Gold  tomatoes are one of a trio of cherry tomatoes available from Renee’s Garden Seeds that Joe has planted for several seasons now. Sweet Golds have a full, sweet, fruity flavor with little acidity. Their flesh is dense and crack free compared to varieties we have grown in past seasons.

The most time consuming part of the recipe was blanching and peeling the tomatoes. I’m pretty sure Ms. Goin doesn’t make her soup with about 75 yellow cherry tomatoes! But that said, it took less than a minute to blanch the tomatoes and the skins slipped off very easily, once they cooled down a bit. I did not core the tomatoes as called for in the original recipe, because they were small. The original recipe called for red wine vinegar, I substituted a white grapefruit balsamic to emphasize the fruitiness. The blanched tomatoes along with cucumber, jalapeno, cilantro, garlic, vinegar and oil are blended in batches. Since I prefer a smoother texture, I put the soup through a food mill.

As with all cold soups this needs to be chilled until very cold. While you are chilling the soup, it’s time to prepare the garnishes. Finely dice cucumber, red pepper for a nice contrast and some red onion. Season some red cherry tomato halves with salt and pepper and prepare some cilantro leaves. If you don’t like cilantro, substitute some flat leafed parsley. The finishing touch is a drizzle of your best quality extra virgin olive oil.

This recipe is great for entertaining, everything can be made in advance, soup chilled and garnishes prepped. It also could be dressed up with a seared scallop or a poached shrimp on top. Yellow tomato gazpacho can be served family style too. Serve the soup in an attractive container, garnish with tomato halves and pass the diced vegetables on the side.


Yellow Tomato Gazpacho

Serves 6


  • 2½lb ripe yellow tomatoes
  • 3 small or 1 large cucumber-reserve part for garnish
  • ½ jalapeno, seeded and cut in half
  • Cilantro or flat leafed parsley sprigs
  • 2 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
  • 2T red wine vinegar
  • 1/3c extra virgin olive oil (optional)
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 3T diced red or orange sweet pepper
  • 3T diced red onion
  • 18 small cherry tomatoes, cut in half
  • Fine quality extra-virgin olive oil for drizzling
The skins of the Sun Gold tomatoes slipped off easily after they were blanched.
The skins of the Sun Gold tomatoes slipped off easily after they were blanched.


  1. Blanch the yellow tomatoes in rapidly boiling water until the skins begin to burst, 30-45 seconds. Cool the tomatoes in a bowl of ice water for a few minutes. Once cool enough, use your fingers to slip off the skins. If using small tomatoes, leave them whole, for large tomatoes, core and coarsely chop. Reserve the ice water.
  2. Reserve about 3T of  peeled and seeded cucumber for the garnish. Peel and coarsely chop the rest of the cucumber.
  3. Place half of the yellow tomatoes, the coarsely chopped cucumber, jalapeno, several cilantro sprigs, garlic, vinegar and olive oil (if using) in a blender with salt and pepper to taste. Process on the lowest speed until the mixture is broken down. Turn the speed to high and puree until the soup is completely smooth. If the soup is too thick, add a little of the reserved ice water. Strain the soup through a fine mesh sieve or a food mill, pressing out as much liquid as possible. Taste for  seasoning. Repeat with the rest of the soup ingredients. Chill the soup in the refrigerator until very cold.
  4. While you are waiting for the soup to chill, dice the cucumber, pepper and red onion. Toss them  together in a small bowl.  Season the cherry tomatoes halves with salt and pepper To serve, pour the gazpacho into chilled soup bowls and scatter the pepper mixture over the soup.  Place 6 cherry tomato halves and a few cilantro leaves at the center of each bowl. Finish each soup with a drizzle of olive oil.
Sun Golds at different stages of ripeness.
Sun Golds at different stages of ripeness.


August 6, 2015 Smoked Tomato Soup

DSC_3892aSituated just 30 miles north of New York City on the former Rockefeller estate in rural Potantico Hills, New York is Blue Hill at Stone Barns. It is a restaurant that exists within the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture and a four season working farm. The mission of James Beard award winning chef Dan Barber is to “create a consciousness about the effects of everyday food choices”.

One of the first true “farm to table” restaurants, the menu at Blue Hill is based on what the farm has harvested that day, not on the diner’s whim. I can relate, that’s how we eat from spring to fall, especially now when the harvest from our garden is so abundant.  I am freezing buckets of string and wax beans, the zucchini harvest is plentiful and I have just started roasting tomatoes to freeze for winter soups, stews and chilis. Needless to say, I am always on the hunt for new takes on familiar recipes. One that recently caught my eye was a recipe that has been published in both Food and Wine magazine and Bon Appetit, chef Barber’s Smoked Tomato Soup.

The idea of smoking tomatoes intrigued me, I have smoked salmon, every variety of poultry, and even cheese. In this recipe, some of the tomatoes in the soup are skillet-smoked, a chef’s trick that is easily achieved by the home chef. Before you begin this recipe, turn the kitchen exhaust fan on.  Fragrant wood chips are scattered in a cast iron skillet and heated until they begin to smoke. Tomato halves, cut side up of course, so none of the juices are lost, are placed on a thick foil square. The skillet is taken off the heat, covered tightly and the tomatoes are allowed to sit until they are smoky, 5-8 minutes. Alternately, as I did, start with a stovetop smoker and spread the wood smoking dust on the bottom of the base pan.The drip tray and rack are placed on top. I placed the tomato halves on the rack, closed the lid and smoked the tomatoes for 10 minutes. It is important to only use wood chips or dust that are specifically made for smoking, and not sprayed with chemicals.

On the stovetop, an onion, a leek, (the first harvested from the garden), garlic, bay leaves and coriander seed are sauteed over medium heat. The recipe also calls for 2 teaspoons of fresh or prepared horseradish, an interesting addition that didn’t make the soup hotter but added another flavor dimension. The rest of the tomatoes are chopped and added to the soup along with chicken broth. To make this recipe vegetarian, substitute vegetable broth for the chicken. Let the pot simmer for about 45 minutes, remove the bay leaves and blend the mixture. Butter adds to the richness of the soup, but you can eliminate it if you are watching your calories. Top the soup with a chiffonade of basil.  Served warm or cold, smoked tomato soup is a refreshing summer treat.


Smoked Tomato Soup

Serves four


  • 4lb. plum tomatoes, halved and divided
  • ¼c olive oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 large leek, white and pale green parts only, halved lengthwise
  • 3 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2tsp coriander seeds
  • 2tsp finely grated fresh horseradish or prepared horseradish
  • 1½c low sodium chicken broth
  • 4T unsalted butter at room temperature
  • Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper
  • Thinly sliced basil leaves (for serving)

Special equipment

  • ½c hickory, pecan or apple wood chips
  • 2T finely ground oak chips


  1. Scatter wood chips in a medium cast-iron skillet and heat over high until chips begin to smoke, about 5 minutes. Cut a 24″ sheet of heavy duty foil and fold in half twice more to make a large square. Fold in half twice more to make a small, thick square. Place the square carefully over the chips and set 5 tomato halves, cut side up on top, remove skillet from heat. Cover with foil and top with a lid or another medium skillet. Let tomatoes sit until barely softened and smoky, 5-8 minutes. Transfer tomatoes to a plate and let cool slightly.
  2. If you have a stovetop smoker:  Place 2 tablespoons of finely ground oak chips in the bottom of the base pan of a stovetop smoker. Set the drip tray on top of the chips, and place the rack on the drip tray. Place 5 tomato halves, cut side up on the rack, and slide the lid closed. Place the smoker on the stovetop. Set the heat to medium, and smoke the vegetables for 10 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, chop remaining tomatoes. Heat oil in a large pot over medium heat and cook onion and leek, stirring occasionally, until tender but not taking on any color, 8 to 10 minutes.
  4. Stir in garlic, bay leaves, coriander seeds and horseradish and cook, stirring occasionally, until fragrant, about 2 minutes.
  5. Add chopped tomatoes and broth, increase heat to medium high and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover pot and simmer until the tomatoes are soft, 35-45 minutes. Let cool slightly, discard bay leaves.
  6. Working in batches if needed, blend tomato mixture, smoked tomatoes and butter in a blender until smooth. Strain soup through a food mill with the medium disc in place into a large bowl; season with salt and pepper. Serve warm or at room temperature topped with chopped basil.
Tomatoes after smoking, softened and smoky!
Tomatoes after smoking, softened and smoky!